Croatia guarantees to protect the EU's external borders and migrants' human rights, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Wednesday while speaking of Croatia's possible entry to the Schengen area of passport-free travel.
Earlier in the day, the European Commission called for the enlargement of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which have met all technical criteria for membership.
It is now up to EU member-states to make a political decision on their admission.
Asked what the EC would say if during a discussion at the Council of the EU a member-state asked about allegations by some nongovernmental organisations and media that Croatia conducted pushbacks, Johansson said she had firm guarantees by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic that Croatia would protect both the EU’s external borders and fundamental human rights.
I think that it is very important that all members of the Schengen area and the EU are capable of fully preventing unauthorised entries to our territory, while at the same time respecting fundamental rights, Johansson said at a news conference.
She noted that she would not be surprised if a member-country asked such a question but added that she had had several very clear and good conversations with the Croatian prime minister and that he was determined to make sure Croatia equally protected the borders and fundamental rights and that she expected that to be implemented.
The EC today presented a strategy for a stronger and more resilient Schengen area, which includes its expansion to member-states that are still not part of it.
The EC reaffirms that Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania meet the technical criteria and that it is time for the Council of the EU to follow its positive evaluations of the countries’ readiness and make a decision on their admission.
“The expansion of the Schengen area to Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania is a priority for the EC. The decision on their admission is not up to us and we have constantly advocated enlargement. I believe that the facts and our inquiries show that those three countries are ready for accession,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said.
The EC said that the three countries’ membership of the Schengen area is not only a legitimate expectation of those countries and their legal obligation but is in the interest of greater security for the entire EU because they will be able to fully use available tools such as those related to the visa information system and interoperability.
Their accession is also crucial for the strengthening of mutual trust in the Schengen area, the EC said.
The Schengen area covers 26 countries, including four that are not EU members – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The area covers all EU members except for Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, and Ireland.
Cyprus does not meet the conditions because it does not fully control its territory, while the Republic of Ireland does not want to enter the Schengen area as otherwise it would have to introduce checks on the border with Northern Ireland, which is contrary to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to armed conflicts in Northern Ireland, part of Great Britain.