Lawmakers in the European Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed Croatia’s accession to the Schengen area on Thursday (10 November), arguing that such a move would help improve the protection of migrants’ human rights at the EU’s external borders.
The European Commission gave a positive assessment of Croatia meeting the necessary criteria for the accession in December 2021. With Thursday’s endorsement, the Parliament pushed for a positive result of a vote in the European Council in December, where the 27 EU leaders will give their final verdict.
The Czech EU Council presidency showed itself in favour of such a move, as well as for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, four years before Croatia.
Croatia, the youngest member state of the EU, is not yet part of the Schengen area, along with other EU states such as Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Ireland (the latter having a flexible opt-out from the Schengen Agreement).
The resolution, passed with 534 in favour, 53 against, and 25 abstaining, concerns Croatia only. Bulgaria and Romania still need to overcome obstructions from the Dutch parliament, as the Netherlands has been reluctant to allow them in.
Dutch Schengen holdout risks fuelling anti-EU sentiment in Bulgaria, Romania
As the Netherlands continues to withhold its green light for Romania and Bulgaria to join Europe’s border-free zone, politicians in the Balkan countries warn that the move, perceived as unfair and discriminatory, risks feeding Euroscepticism and discord during times of …
The MEP from the European People’s Party and rapporteur on Croatia’s file, Paul Rangel, told EURACTIV in October that if Croatia joined the Schengen area, it would be easier to protect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the Balkan route.
Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia meet Schengen criteria, MEP says
As Bulgaria and Romania seek full accession to the Schengen free movement area, and Croatia begins the process, EURACTIV sat down with MEP Paulo Rangel (EPP) to discuss the countries’ respective journeys.
Karlo Ressler from the EPP told the parliamentary debate that “for us, Croatian MEPs, this is probably the most important decision in our mandate […] at times of war in the European continent, this gives as also development opportunities and also additional security. Croatia has shown that can protect the European borders”.
Matjaž Nemec, an MEP from the S&D group, added that “in the name of S&D, we support Croatia entering Schengen […] However, Croatia needs to understand that there are human rights issues on its southern border, entering Schengen doesn’t mean that they will not need to respect EU and international law. We will be clear in monitoring their actions”.
The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers at the EU border has been flagged as a concern by several migration experts and NGOs, as well as the media, seen as a consequence of the EU strategy of borders’ externalisation.
Experts and officials on the ground near a Croatian border indicated to EURACTIV in 2021 that there is systematic illegal border violence and pushbacks by Croatian police against people attempting to cross over from Bosnia. Croatia has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
'EU can play dumb as long as it wants' on Croatian border violence
Several officials on the ground, as well as first-hand testimonies given to EURACTIV by migrants, have detailed signs of systematic illegal border violence and pushbacks by Croatian police against people attempting to cross over from Bosnia.
EURACTIV travelled to the Una …
Similar concerns about the respect of international law and human rights abuses have emerged in recent years in other countries that are already part of Schengen, like Italy, Greece, and Spain.
The most recent case took place in Italy, where authorities blocked NGO boats that save lives in the Mediterranean Sea.
There have also been cases of abuse of migrants by the Moroccan police at the border with Spain, and the ongoing illegal drift backs in Greece, denounced by various organisations, such as the investigative research centre Forensic Architecture.
The EU has pledged to approve before the 2024 elections different pieces of legislation on migration, including the pact on Migration and Asylum, which will address relocation mechanisms and a harmonised approach for asylum applications, and the Regulation for Crisis and Force Majeure, which will address emergencies.
At the moment, all the bureaucracy linked with migration is almost exclusively in the hands of member states, and the frontline countries have been bearing the brunt of dealing with the influx of migrants since the first migration crisis in 2015.
**Georgi Gotev contributed to this story.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]