EU says Croatia fulfils conditions for application of Schengen acquis

NEWS 09.12.2021 20:14
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Source: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

EU member states on Thursday agreed the text of draft conclusions confirming that Croatia has fulfilled the necessary conditions for the application of the Schengen acquis, which paves the way for a final decision on accession to the area without internal border controls.

The draft conclusions were formally approved by the member states’ interior ministers without discussion.

On Wednesday, at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee, the Netherlands and Sweden had procedural reservations because their representatives waited for consultations with the relevant committees of their respective parliaments to end.

The conclusions cannot be approved without the consent of all member states. The green light was given today, in time for the interior ministers who convened in Brussels to officially approve them.

“Croatia has fulfilled the necessary conditions for the application of all parts of the Schengen acquis,” the draft conclusions say.

“Thus, the preconditions have been fulfilled for the Council to be able to take the decision referred to in Article 4(2) of the Act of Accession of Croatia, allowing for the lifting of internal border controls. With a view to Croatia’s accession to Schengen, Croatia is invited to continue working consistently on the implementation of the Schengen acquis, as well as commitments linked to the Schengen acquis.”

These conclusions are a necessary procedural step towards the adoption of a decision on Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area and lifting internal controls on Croatia’s land border with Slovenia and Hungary as well as in airports and seaports.

The final decision could be adopted in about six months during the French Council of the EU Presidency. It requires the consent of all Schengen member states. The Council also has to consult the European Parliament, but is not obliged to follow its opinion.

The approved conclusions do not mean that the decision on accession to Schengen is guaranteed, as the possibility of a member state blocking the decision cannot be ruled out. Conclusions on Bulgaria’s and Romania’s readiness to join Schengen were adopted in 2011 but they have still not been admitted.

The text says that with “the approval of these draft Council conclusions, the preconditions will be met for the Council to be able to subsequently take the decision that all parts of the Schengen acquis apply in Croatia. The Council can start work on this draft Council decision with a view to transmitting it to the European Parliament for consultation as soon as possible.”

By letter of 6 March 2015, Croatia declared its readiness to start the Schengen evaluation process in all relevant policy areas as of 1 July 2015 with a view to a Council Decision on the full application of the Schengen acquis.

The evaluation began in June 2016 and was completed in May 2019. On 22 October 2019, the European Commission confirmed that Croatia met all the technical requirements for joining Schengen.

The evaluation was done by teams of experts from the Commission and the member states, who wrote a series of reports and recommendations for remedying the identified deficiencies. Based on the recommendations, Croatia drew up action plans to remove the deficiencies. The last action plan, for management of external borders, was concluded in February this year.

Croatia underwent the most comprehensive and most detailed evaluation for Schengen membership, unlike any other member state before. It complied with 281 recommendations in eight Schengen acquis chapters, including 145 on external border supervision.

With the EU’s help, Croatia invested considerable funds in border protection. The border is protected by 6,500 police. It has been under great pressure from migrants trying to enter EU territory. The Croatian border police have been accused by media and NGOs of pushbacks and inhumane treatment of illegal migrants trying to cross the green border.

As a result, Croatia introduced independent monitoring of police treatment of migrants and asylum seekers on the border. Under the Commission’s draft pact on migration and asylum, all member states should have such monitoring mechanisms.

In the conclusions, the Council “reiterates the importance of further strengthening of the Schengen area, including the ongoing negotiations on an efficient evaluation and monitoring mechanism. With a view to Croatia’s accession to Schengen, Croatia is invited to continue working consistently on the implementation of the Schengen acquis, as well as commitments linked to the Schengen acquis.”

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