Božinović: Knowledge, leadership, patience and commitment needed for Schengen

Photo /Vijesti/2022/06 lipanj/29 lipnja/Božinović 1.jpg

Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Wednesday, after a series of meetings with senior officials in Washington, that entering the US Visa Waiver Program was largely complementary to the accession to the Schengen Area, which Croatia is expected to join in early 2023.

Commenting on claims that Croatia was ready for the Schengen Area in 2015, Božinović wondered how it could have been ready when it started receiving the membership benchmarks in the evaluation process in 2016.

These are processes that require good knowledge of the EU legislation, leadership, patience and commitment, Božinović told Hina.

A meeting of Permanent Representatives in the Council of the EU today approved the launch of a consultation process on the Council's draft decision on the full implementation of the Schengen acquis in Croatia. That is the last step before the final decision which is expected to be adopted at a meeting of the Council of Home Affairs Ministers. Croatia thus expects to join the Schengen Area, as well as the euro area, in early 2023.

Real work done in past few years

Božinović added that despite submitting the Schengen application in 2015, two years after Croatia joined the EU, real work had been done in the past few years, when €200 million, mostly European funds, was invested in border surveillance. That made it possible to purchase the state-of-the-art technical equipment used by 6,700 Croatian border officers.

"Until our government assumed office and the HDZ took over this department, we couldn't make even the first step toward the integration into the Schengen Area because we didn't know, in accordance with the new regulation on Schengen evaluations from 2013, what would be required of us on that demanding path," Božinović said.

"The first condition was to study the new European regulations, which was by definition the job of the Directorate for European Affairs at the Ministry of the Interior, which was abolished in 2012 by the then government with the explanation that it was not needed after joining the EU," said Božinović, adding that the directorate was reestablished during his term of office.

This was followed by serious evaluation with regard to the Schengen acquis in a number of areas, including firearms regulations, data protection, police cooperation, a common visa policy, judicial cooperation and external border management.

All of that was happening during a migrant wave, generated primarily, according to Božinović, by organised smuggling networks.

Over the past few years, he recalled, over 5,000 migrant smugglers have been arrested.

Croatia's accession will strengthen Schengen Area security

He underlined Croatia's successes in evaluations via the Schengen Security System (SSS) and in the fight against hybrid and cyber attacks. He said the possibility to additionally train Croatian police in the US, notably officers dealing with high-tech crime, was considered at the meetings in Washington.

It was necessary to invest a lot of effort on the international front as well so that it was understood at EU level that Croatia's accession would not reduce but significantly increase the security of the Schengen Area, Božinović said.

As for criticism about police violence towards migrants, he said Croatia acknowledged the fact that as a state on the external EU border, it was responsible for security as well as for respecting migrants' basic human rights, an important issue in the context of European values.

Božinović said Croatia was the only EU member state with an independent mechanism monitoring police treatment of migrants in cooperation with international and civil society organisations. An annual report on that is expected soon, he added.

The police are professional in every aspect of their work, as evident in the latest annual report on police work, he said, adding that thanks to the work of the police, Croatia is the second EU member state in terms of using SSS data.

Since its police check every person they check via SSS also in Interpol databases, Croatia is first among the member states as to the number of checks made in those databases, Božinović said.

Text: Hina