Croatia could wrap up preparations for joining the Schengen Area by the end of 2016 and join after 2018, Foreign Minister Miro Kovac and Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic said on Friday.
After joining the European Union three years ago today, Croatia's next membership challenge is the area without internal border control which consists of 22 of the EU's 28 member states and four non-member states.
Kovac and Orepic spoke of that priority at a conference marking Croatia's EU accession on 1 July 2013. "I think we could complete all the preparations by the end of the year," said Orepic.
Kovac said it was not realistic that Croatia would join the Schengen Area before 2018 because of next year's elections in Germany and France. "After that, we will get new leaderships in those two fundamental countries on the European continent. I think it's possible that Croatia will join the Schengen Area from 2018 on."
The European Commission has given Croatia EUR 120 million for alignment to Schengen standards, of which 81% has been used. "All that shows that Croatia is taking a well-trodden path and Schengen represents the next maturity step," said Orepic.
Europeans make over a billion trips annually within the Schengen Area, which represents a big potential for Croatia, said Branko Baricevic, head of the European Commission Representation in Croatia. "Croatia is on the path of achieving that goal and in order to join we need to meet criteria whereby we will contribute to the keeping of security, trust and free movement."
The EU member states which are not part of the Schengen Area, launched in 1995, are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom. Bulgaria and Romania are in the process of joining. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are the four non-EU member states that are part of Schengen.