Croatia adopted this Sunday -January 1- the euro and joined the Schengen area of free movement, a “historic moment” for this small Balkan country that became independent in 1991 and entered the European Union (EU) in 2013 .
At midnight on Sunday, Croats not only said goodbye to 2022, but also to their national currency, the kuna. In this way, his country thus became the twentieth country in the euro zone, out of the 27 that make up the EU.
It also became the 27th country in the Schengen area, a vast area of free movement for the 400 million people who share its internal borders. This area is mainly made up of EU countries and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
“There is nowhere in Europe where the (European) ideal is truer than here in Croatia,” the president of the European Commission (EU executive) said in a message on Twitter. Ursula von der Leyen, who arrived in the Balkan country this Sunday to celebrate these two events.
The Commission President first met Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Slovenian President Pirc Musar at a border post between Croatia and Slovenia. From there, she headed to the Croatian capital Zagreb.
“It is a day that the history books will remember,” said Von der Leyen in statements from the border post, while Plenkovic assured that it was a “historical moment”.
Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 after a war in which some 20,000 people died and since July 2013 it has been part of the EU. The entry into the euro zone and the Schengen area represent “two strategic objectives to achieve greater integration in the EU”, the conservative prime minister of the country had highlighted on Wednesday.
Faced with the current energy crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, the Croatian economy suffered inflation of 13.5% in November, higher than the 10% average for the euro zone. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message in a video, published on Sunday, which hopes that the euro will bring “monetary stability and soundness” to the Balkan country.
The fear of a price spike continues
Croatian central bank president Boris Vujcic withdrew euros from an ATM in Zagreb, in a symbolic gesture to welcome the new currency. The euro will “certainly bring greater stability and security” to the economy, Ana Sabic, a central bank official, told AFP.
The single currency is already very present in a tourist country like Croatia, where 80% of bank deposits They are in that currency and most of their companies’ international clients come from EU countries. However, the ordinary population fears that the change of currency will accentuate inflation.
“It will be difficult. Prices that were already high will rise even higher,” said Ivana Toncic, a teacher who lives in Zagreb. Instead, most Croats welcome the end of border controls with entry into the Schengen area.
“This is a fantastic decision for tourism,” Marko Pavic, an employee at a tourism agency in one country, told AFP. During the last year it received a number of visitors four times higher than its population, of almost 4 million inhabitants.
Several Croatian ministers met after midnight on Saturday with other leaders from neighboring countries, such as Slovenia or Hungary, to celebrate their incorporation into the area of free movement “Tonight we celebrate the New Year and a new Europe with Croatia in Schengen,” he declared. Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic from a Slovenian border post.
A total of 73 border posts stopped carrying out checks as of Sunday. In the case of airports, the end of controls will take place on March 26, for technical reasons.
But Zagreb will, instead, restrictively monitor the arrival of clandestine migrants from neighboring countries that are not part of the EU, such as Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia. Croatia lies in the middle of the Western Balkans route, used by many migrants, as well as arms, drug and human traffickers.
*With information from AFP.