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EU Commission head lauds Croatia on eurozone, Schengen entry

January 1, 2023

After years of waiting, Croatia is adopting the euro and joining the Schengen Area. EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen praised it as "a day for the history books" during the ceremony at the Croatian border.

 Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen point in the same direction during a walk in Zagreb
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkov and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both described move as a historic momentImage: Denis Lovrovic/AFP

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met leaders of Croatia and Slovenia on Sunday at a border crossing between the two countries. With Croatia  joining both the eurozone and the Schengen areaon January 1, this border can now be traversed without passports.

Von der Leyen lauded Zagreb's "immense achievements" at the Bregana border crossing.

"There is no place in Europe where there it is more true today that it is the season of new beginnings and new chapters than here at the border between Croatia and Slovenia.''  

"Indeed, this is a day for history books,'' she added.

Croatia is the youngest EU member state, having joined the bloc in 2013. Slovenia, which has been in the EU since 2004, became part of the Schengen Area in 2007 and adopted the euro the same year.

Croatia, which has a population of 3.9 million, is now the 20th member of the zone that uses the euro currency and the 27th in the Schengen Area. This also means that the country is leaving behind its national currency, kuna.

Croatia: DW's Steven Beardsley in Zagreb

What did the leaders say?

Speaking at a ceremony at the border, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said, "If there are historical moments, special moments which should provide us with great honor and when we witness the achievement of strategic goals of a state — this is such a day."

He later treated von der Leyen to a coffee in the Zagreb's main square, paying for it in Croatia's new currency, the euro, as a symbolic gesture.

Andrej Plenkovic and Ursula von der Leyen looking at Croatian euro coins
Croatians have long used the euro unofficially, but the country is now officially in the eurozoneImage: Darko Bandic/AP/dpa/picture alliance

He later touched on Croatia's new responsibility, taken over from Slovenia, of safeguarding what is now the EU's longest external land border, at 1,350 kilometers (840 miles).

He said his country would never put up physical borders between it and its three non-EU neighbors, but rather help those three countries — Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro — to draw closer to the bloc.

All three nations are nominally striving to join the EU but have reached different stages on the path to membership. Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, just like Croatia and Slovenia, were part of the Yugoslavian Federation until the 1990s.

Slovenian President Natasa Pirz Musar backed this project, saying she hope that her country and Croatia would both "assist the states in our neighborhood to join the EU." 

Since Russia began its attack on Ukraine last February, the EU is looking to engage more with Western Balkan nations with a view to maintaining Europe's security.

tj/dj (AFP, Reuters, AP)