The boom gates at Croatian border posts swung up at midnight Sunday as the country joined Europe’s zone of free movement as the country also adopted the euro as its currency.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed “two immense achievements,” speaking alongside Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Slovenian President Nataša Pirc Musar at a border post in the town of Bregana.
“There is no place in Europe where it is more true today that it is a season of new beginnings and new chapters than here at the border between Croatia and Slovenia,” von der Leyen said.
“Nothing is the same after this,” said Plenković, noting the convenience that free movement and currency union will bring to Croatians.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the former Yugoslavian republic joining the EU. Von der Leyen praised the hard work of the Croatian people and singled out Plenković for pushing through the reforms needed to make the rapid ascension into the EU’s currency club.
She said the euro “brings macroeconomic stability and credibility” at home and abroad.
“Our citizens and the economy will be better protected from crises,” said Plenković.
But more than that, von der Leyen said, the euro coin imprinted with the pine marten — which gave its name to Croatia’s former currency, the kuna — is “a symbol of the successful union between your national identity and your European destiny.”
The adoption of the euro comes on the back of a long campaign to demonstrate that Croatia can adhere to the currency zone’s requirements for economic management. Croatian Finance Minister Marko Primorac told POLITICO last week that he expected the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio to fall steeply in the coming years as the recovery from the pandemic continues.
Shortly after midnight, Primorac withdrew the first euros from a Croatian ATM.
The entry into the Schengen zone means the removal of land and sea border checks with Croatia’s European neighbors. Airport checks from the 26 other countries that participate in the scheme will end in March.
The fall of these barriers to movement is “the final affirmation of our European identity, for which generations of Croats fought and fought,” said Interior Minister Davor Božinović, who opened the barrier at Bregana at midnight on New Year’s Day alongside his Slovenian counterpart, Sanja Ajanović Hovnik.
Parties were organized by citizens at the border. Von der Leyen said those living close to Slovenia and Hungary would see “tangible results” as they were able to travel freely across the frontier for employment and shopping. “Communities will grow closer together,” she said.
The Commission president also noted the responsibility that joining Schengen confers on Croatia, at a time when migration pressures are a matter of growing political tension between the bloc’s members.
“We will need to work very closely together to protect Schengen and preserve its benefits,” said von der Leyen. “In Schengen, we rely on each other and we know that we can trust you and that we can rely on Croatia.”
In a statement, Slovenia’s Hovnik congratulated Croatia on a “historic” step, which her country took just a year before, and tried to settle Slovenian anxiety about security along the newly open border.
“It is an event for which we have been preparing for a long time on both sides of the border,” she said.