New Year’s Day sees Croatia joining Europe’s single currency as well as its (mostly) passportless travel zone, the Schengen. These landmark events are the result of a mere 10 years’ time since Croatia joined the EU.
This is a story that should be cherished by all pro-Europeans, but perhaps especially Ukrainians. Croatia, less than 30 years after winning bitter war to reclaim its conquered territory and secure independence from an apparently more powerful neighbor, has been admitted to the EU club as a full member.
While symbolism is important, there are many practical benefits for small countries when they join the Euro. This allows one to borrow in their own currency and is protected from fluctuations in foreign exchange. Investors from other countries in the Eurozone will find a country that eliminates this particular risk more attractive.
It could be more difficult to enjoy the full benefits offered by the Schengen region. To accommodate airline schedule changes, airport controls will remain in place until March 26. However, Croatia will immediately eliminate the checkpoints at its border crossings with Slovenia and Hungary.
It will be a test to see how reciprocal these two countries are. Both countries are concerned about uncontrolled migration in the Balkans. Austria, their neighbor, is still open to border checks as a response to this perceived risk.
The effectiveness of border control at the Croatian section, which spans 1,300 kms of EU’s exterior frontier, will play a major role in this. However, tough measures can be costly politically and threaten to alienate Bosnia/Serbia/Montenegro. These are all countries with European aspirations but also vulnerable to warnings that the EU is only dragging them along.
The path to European integration is not always easy. Croatia joins Schengen before Bulgaria and Romania, who were the two previous countries to join the EU. Many other member countries aren’t ready or willing to join the Euro yet. The European Commission celebrates the fact that the single currency has its twentieth member, and that the Schengen region has been expanded for the first time since 11 years.
President Ursula von der Leyen stated, “Schengen enlargement strengthens us and Croatia can now help to make Schengen more prosperous and resilient”, without any doubt. She emphasized the symbolism of joining the Euro. She said, “This is a significant achievement for Croatia, a symbol its deep-rooted attachment with the EU and an emblem of the Euro area as the whole”.
January 1 marks another significant moment. It is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Economic Community from six original members. Only Denmark, which joined the European Economic Community in 1973, is now part of the Schengen Area. However, it does still frequently conduct passport checks at its borders. Denmark can opt out of the single currency at will, but it has pinned the Krone to Euro.
Ireland is in the Eurozone, but it has an indefinite opt out from Schengen. It prefers to keep its Common Travel Area (with the United Kingdom) intact. Before leaving the EU, the UK had indefinite options to exclude itself from Schengen and Euro.
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