Croatia begins process of applying for Schengen Area membership

On Wednesday, two years after becoming a full member of the European Union, Croatia began the process of applying for membership of the Schengen Area, in which citizens of the EU member states can move freely without being stopped at border crossings.

The application process starts by filling in a standard questionnaire, which should be completed by August. Croatia could apply for membership of the Schengen Area on July 1 at the earliest, two years after joining the EU.

The Committee on the Coordination and Supervision of the Schengen Instrument held its eighth session on Wednesday, focusing on the implementation of all elements of the Schengen acquis, the Schengen evaluation mechanism and the filling in of the standard evaluation questionnaire provided by the European Commission, for which answers should be prepared by August.

The session was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Ranko Ostojic and was attended by representatives of the ministries and state administration bodies involved in the Schengen evaluation process.

The Committee discussed progress made in preparations for Schengen Area membership and funds drawn from the Schengen Instrument, concluding that everything was proceeding according to plan, the Ministry of the Interior said.

Ostojic said he was pleased with the European Commission's announcement that Croatia would be included in the evaluation plan for next year. He said that the evaluation process would last one year as usual.

Ostojic noted that Croatia had done a lot in preparations for Schengen Area membership, saying that it was already following all the Schengen rules at its borders and that it had managed to divert the Balkan smuggling route from its borders to Hungary.

Ostojic presented Croatia's declaration of readiness for Schengen evaluation in Brussels in mid-March, when Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said that the Commission would adjust its multi-annual evaluation plan to add Croatia for 2016 and announced the first evaluation visit to Croatia for next year.

The purpose of the evaluation mechanism is to maintain mutual trust among the Schengen Area member states and keep the area free of internal border controls. It is based on close cooperation between the European Commission and the member states.

The evaluation and monitoring mechanism covers all aspects of the Schengen acquis: effective application of necessary measures on the external borders, visa policies, the Schengen information system, data protection, police cooperation, judicial cooperation, and absence of internal border control.

Schengen Area members decide on admission of new entrants by consensus.