Croatia, the youngest member of the European Union, has been one of the most integrated countries in the European project since the beginning of 2023. With the arrival on January 1, the state that later (in July 2013) joined the bloc entered the eurozone and at the same time the Schengen area, at the door of which two more applicants are waiting, more veterans, Bulgaria and Romania. Along with Zagreb, Brussels has celebrated a milestone which, according to the main European officials, is not only a “historic” moment for the Balkan country – when several of its neighbors have not even achieved candidate status – but also an example of the strength of the Twenty-Seven, as their unity is repeatedly put to the test.
“The euro is a symbol of unity across borders and languages,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who traveled to the Croatian border on Sunday to mark a “day of celebration for all Croats and all European citizens”. “.
Dear @AndrejPlenkovicwhat a great success for the people of Croatia.
To join the Euro and Schengen communities just 10 years after you joined the EU.
I know how hard you worked for this day.
Hrvatska je voljena članica europske obitelji. pic.twitter.com/nWU5lvebV6
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) January 1, 2023
“The euro is a symbol of European strength, unity and solidarity at a time when we have war on our doorstep,” Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president of the Economic Affairs Commission, said in a video. This, he stressed, “is important not only for Croatia, but also for the whole EU” and for those countries that, like Ukraine, aspire one day to be part of the common bloc.
confidence in the economy
Croatia is hoping for an economic upswing from joining the eurozone. The example of the last three countries to join the currency area gives cause for optimism. The three Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) have taken a big step in their rapprochement with the EU. In the last ten years, the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of these three countries has moved about 20 points closer to the Community average. During this time, the Balkan state has only advanced halfway. Although the Croatian economy’s great numbers show that it is already prepared for the leap it has just made: the public deficit was just under 3% of GDP at the end of 2022; Your debt is 70%; Unemployment is around 6%.
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Although this data also includes one of the great challenges that this Balkan country, which gained its independence in the 1990s, had to overcome in the last century: inequality. For example, in Zagreb, where 34% of the country’s economy is concentrated, per capita GDP is 18 percentage points above the Community average. In the eastern regions, on the other hand, they are 64 points lower.
Entry into the Schengen area is as tangible as the euro. It may be that for the majority of almost four million Croatian citizens it is less than paying in the common currency every day, but they will also notice it in the hours saved at the border crossings with Slovenia and Hungary or at airports. This is what Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said when he indicated that Croatians would now enjoy “two of the most tangible benefits of European integration”.
With a mixture of hope and resignation, the big step towards Croatia’s overall European integration is viewed by other neighboring countries, which have not yet managed to penetrate these areas or even the EU itself. Tirana hosted the first EU-Balkans summit held in the region in early December. It was a gesture from Brussels to the Balkan aspirants who have been waiting for membership for years: the official “accession candidates” of the region – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the capital of Montenegro – met in Albanian together with the member countries. , North Macedonia and Serbia – as well as Kosovo, which has not yet started the accession process as it is not recognized by five EU countries, including Spain.
The Albanian meeting came at a time when Brussels is trying to halt the encroachment of China, and especially Russia, into a geostrategic region for the European continent. This area is also key to stopping the irregular migration flows that the Twenty-seven are trying to stem.
Croatia lies in the middle of the Western Balkans route, which is used not only by migrants but also by arms and drug dealers. Between January and October 2022 alone, the country registered the arrival of 30,000 migrants in an irregular situation, 150% more than in 2021. Despite this, the 27 also gave their approval for Zagreb’s accession to Schengen in December, while the latter left Bulgaria and Romania before Door of Waiting, vetoed by Austria and the Netherlands. A circumstance that Brussels has regretted several times since then and that Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson has now reminded that Croatia is part of the Schengen area. “Each new Schengen member makes the EU stronger (…) I remain personally committed to Romania and Bulgaria becoming members in the near future,” said Johansson.
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