EU chief celebrates Croatia’s ‘tremendous achievements’
ZAGREB, Croatia — The European Union chief traveled to Croatia on Sunday to celebrate the “huge achievements” of the EU’s newest member country, which has switched to the euro and joined the largest passport-free travel zone in the world on New Year’s Day.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with the leaders of Croatia and Slovenia at the Bregana border crossing between the two Balkan countries, which became obsolete in the first minutes of 2023 when the Schengen area has been expanded to include Croatia.
At midnight on Saturday, Croatia also relegated its national currency, the kuna, to history and switched to the euro, the common currency used by 347 million Europeans,
“There is no place in Europe where it is more true today that it is the season of new beginnings and new chapters than here on the border between Croatia and Slovenia,” said von der Leyen. “Indeed, it is a day for the history books.”
Slovenia, which joined the EU in May 2004, has been tasked with protecting the borders of the Schengen area since becoming part of the passport-free zone in December 2007.
Croatia, which was admitted to the EU in July 2013, now assumes this responsibility. After meeting von der Leyen and Slovenian President Natasa Pirc Musar at the Bregana border crossing, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic pledged to control its eastern borders with non-EU neighbors Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, which now form the external borders of the Schengen area.
However, Plenkovic said Croatia would never erect physical barriers between itself and its three eastern neighbours, but rather use its EU integration experience to help these countries achieve the same goal.
Pirc Musar agreed that the only right path for the Western Balkan countries was to align their policies with those of the 27-member bloc, expressing hope that Slovenia and Croatia would “together help our neighborhood states to join the ‘EU’.
Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro are all trying to join the EU, but at different stages on the road to membership.
Montenegro and Serbia opened formal membership talks years ago, while Bosnia applied for membership in December.
EU enlargement has stagnated in recent years. But since Russia attacked Ukraine in February last year, EU officials have stressed that stepping up the bloc’s engagement with Western Balkan countries is more crucial than ever to maintain peace. European security.