No Chance of Croatian Schengen Entry for at Least Two More Years

Lauren Simmonds

Croatia is gradually being woken from its Schengen dreams bit by bit, and it isn’t only Slovenia’s border complaint standing in the way of Croatia’s entry…

As Slobodna Dalmacija/Jutarnji list/Kresimir Zabec writes on the 29th of September, 2019, the Republic of Croatia will not be part of the Schengen area for at least another two years, despite the fact the European Commission is likely to confirm that the country has fulfilled the Schengen technical requirements next week, Jutarnji list learned from diplomatic sources.

There are several reasons for this, one of them being that, apart from Croatia’s neighbour to the north – Slovenia, which is blocking entry, Croatia’s Schengen accession is opposed by the Netherlands, Germany and France, according to available information.

Although until recently, certain high-ranking Croatian officials have been making quite firm statements about Croatia’s potential very early entry into Schengen, they are now very vague. Yesterday in Brussels, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković confirmed that “it is politically important for Croatia to receive a positive assessment by the European Commission on its readiness to enter Schengen, which is expected soon, and now it’s impossible to predict when it will enter the area without internal border controls,” according to a report from Jutarnji list.

Political criteria

It is Croatian MEP Karlo Ressler’s committee at the level of the European Parliament that deals with the issue of Croatia’s entry to Schengen and migration. The entry of EU member states into the Schengen area is decided by Schengen member states themselves. So, it is no longer the professional criteria that matters, but the political criteria. After confirming that Croatia has fulfilled the technical criteria, there is one Council session remaining during the Finnish EU Presidency before the end of the year, and there will certainly be no debate on Croatia.

The Union will then be chaired by Croatia, which must not place the issue of Schengen entry on the agenda of the Council session during those six months during which it will preside.

After Croatia’s presidency comes the turn of Germany, which opposes Croatia’s entry into Schengen, meaning it will almost certainly not put the issue on its agenda. In early 2021, Portugal will preside over the presidency, and Portugal is unlikely to intefere with the issue. Then comes Slovenia, which assumes EU presidency during the second half of 2021 and will surely pile on the pressure to stop Croatia’s Schengen entry unless the still ongoing border issue between the two countries is resolved.

System reform

Karlo Ressler pointed out that after the decision was made that Croatia fulfilled Schengen’s technical conditions, it was still a matter of political decision, and there are several things that do not benefit Croatia at all.

Namely, the reform of the Schengen system is underway, and according to the available information, the Netherlands, Germany and France are all of the opinion that a new Schengen system should be agreed first and then new members should be admitted. Knowing the decision-making system within the EU, which is slow and full of red tape, one can expect it to be a very lengthy process that could delay Croatia’s accession for a significantly longer period.

Ressler therefore believes that “a potential delay in Croatia’s accession would not be good for anyone because the situation with reforms will be long-lasting.”

There is also the issue of Bulgaria and Romania, which have both been awaiting the Council’s decision to join Schengen for five years now. Ressler notes that “there is certainly an intention for all three states to be bundled together.” However, unlike Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are two countries under EU monitoring, and as long as they are, they will not be allowed to enter Schengen.

The Slovenian veto

According to the currently available information, it is actually Germany who is advocating that Croatia cannot enter Schengen without Bulgaria and Romania going with it. In addition, Germany supports the Netherlands’ arguments that Croatia cannot enter Schengen until it has resolved border issues with its neighbours, and Croatia has unresolved issues with all its neighbours except Hungary and Italy.

The Netherlands is also not happy with the fact that there are a great number of Croats living in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not a member state of the EU, they typically have dual citizenship and, after Croatia joins Schengen, they will be able move smoothly and freely around the EU, without control. For them, this is proof that the Croatian border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially the part towards Herzegovina, is too porous.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Plenković cited precisely those valid arguments – the Schengen reforms and the issue of Bulgaria and Romania – as a reason for it being unknown as to when Croatia could become part of Schengen.

“In this context, it’s difficult for me or anyone else to be able to give a date, but we’ll hold on to and advocate for it in the EU Council based on our concrete achievements and decontextualise it from what could be some political angle being taken by any country,” noted Plenković.

Despite it upholding its view, Slovenia is more than aware that it is too weak to veto Croatia’s entry itself, so it is trying to push its interests with three much stronger members. However, the Croatian Prime Minister has made sure to warn Slovenia that it cannot block Croatia’s Schengen membership indefinitely.

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