Croatia this Sunday – January 1 – adopted the euro and joined the Schengen area of freedom movement, a “historic moment” for the small Balkan country that became independent in 1991 and joined the European Union (EU) in 2013.
At midnight on Sunday, Croatians not only said goodbye to 2022, but also to their national currency, the kuna. In this way, his country became the twentieth member of the Eurozone out of the 27 countries that make up the European Union.
It also became the 27th country in the Schengen area, allowing free movement for the 400 million people who share its internal borders. This region is mainly made up of EU countries and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
“Nowhere in Europe is the (European) ideal more real than in Croatia,” the president of the European Commission (EU executive) said in a message on Twitter. Ursula von der Leyen arrived in the Balkans this Sunday to celebrate both events.
The head of the commission first met with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Slovenian President Birk Muzar at the border between Croatia and Slovenia. From there, he went to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
“This is a day the history books will remember,” van der Leyen said in a statement from the border police station. It was a “historic moment,” promised Blenkovic.
Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 after a war that left 20,000 dead and has been part of the European Union since July 2013. The country’s conservative prime minister highlighted on Wednesday that entry into the euro zone and the Schengen area represent “two strategic objectives to achieve greater integration in the EU”.
Faced with an ongoing energy crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, the Croatian economy experienced inflation of 13.5% in November, 10% above the eurozone average. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message The video, released on Sunday, said it hoped the euro would bring “monetary stability and certainty” to the Balkan country.
Fears of rising prices continue
Croatian Central Bank President Boris Vujicic withdraws euros from an ATM in Zagreb to welcome the new currency. Ana Sabik, a central bank official, told AFP that the euro would “certainly bring more stability and security” to the economy.
A tourist country like Croatia already has a single currency, where 80% of bank deposits are. They are in that currency and most of their companies’ international clients come from EU countries. However, ordinary people fear that devaluation will increase inflation.
“It will be difficult. Prices, which are already high, will rise even more,” says Ivana Doncic, a teacher living in Zagreb. Instead, most Croatians welcome the end of border controls by entering the Schengen area.
“It’s a fantastic result for tourism,” Marko Pavic, who works at a tourism agency in one country, told AFP. Last year, it received more than four times its population of visitors, nearly 4 million people.
“Tonight we celebrate the New Year and the new Europe with Croatia in Schengen,” Croatian Interior Minister Davor Pocinovic said from the Slovenian border after several Croatian ministers joined other leaders of neighboring countries such as Slovenia or Hungary after midnight on Saturday to celebrate their integration in the area of freedom movement.
As of Sunday, a total of 73 border posts were stopped. As for airports, the restrictions will end on March 26 due to technical reasons.
But Zagreb, on the other hand, will restrict the arrival of illegal immigrants from neighboring countries that are not part of the EU, such as Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia. Croatia is in the middle of the Western Balkans route, which is used by many migrants and arms, drug and human traffickers.
*With information from AFP.