STA, 22 October 2019 - Commenting on the European Commission assessing that Croatia has met the conditions to enter the Schengen zone, PM Marjan Šarec regretted on Tuesday that such an important decision had been made right before the end of the Commission's term. Speaking of a political decision, Šarec expects Croatia to meet all technical and legal conditions.
"We had already said that if the decision was political, then Slovenia would also act politically and in line with its interests," Šarec reiterated at an event in Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana.
He said that the European Commission had apparently put the issue on the agenda at the end of the term, which "seems disputable to us". It would be better if the new Commission dealt with that, he added.
The prime minister's office quoted Šarec earlier as saying that "Slovenia expects that Croatia will meet all conditions, both technical and legal, including the respect of the rule of law, to enter the Schengen zone."
It added that Croatia must show the ability to protect the external border effectively and thus ensure security of the entire EU.
According to Šarec, Croatia needs to carry out a number of activities to be able to ensure permanent and effective management of the external border of the EU and to fully meet the required technical conditions.
The prime minister also told the press in Cankarjev Dom that "we are a bit worried" regarding Croatia meeting the technical requirements, noting that "we have had 12,000 illegal migrants already this year."
He added that "this means that they are coming from somewhere and that the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is porous. This is why I doubt that this will change over night with the potential entry to Schengen."
Interior Ministry State Secretary Sandi Čurin meanwhile told the press that the green light from the European Commission was only an intermediate step in the process of Croatia's accession to the Schengen zone.
He noted that the assessment procedure was far from being concluded and that the "accession of a country to the Schengen zone is decided on by the member states with consensus."
"Today's message is exclusively intended for supporting Croatia in its efforts to enter the Schengen zone and encouraging it to make the steps needed to meet all standards and conditions," Čurin said.
He stressed that it was not an implementing act, as those were subject to discussion by the EU Council, and that it had no legal consequences whatsoever.
European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said that the report was only one of the steps in the process, adding that before any enlargement of Schengen, it needed to be secured that the system was fully functional.
Speaking to the press in Brussels, the Slovenian EU commissioner said that she had told the fellow commissioners at today's meeting that the Schengen area as it was known today was not functioning as a whole.
"There are still six Schengen countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria and France - which have kept border checks within the Schengen area, including on the border between Austria and Slovenia," she noted.
Bulc believes that the final assessment should take into account the progress that needs to be made in the migration policy, protection of external borders, rule of law and good neighbourly relations.
Noting that consent of the EU Council was required for the decision that Croatia entered Schengen, the commissioner said that the member states, including Slovenia, would have the final say based on a technical report.
The parliamentary parties which have so far responded to the announcement expressed varied opinions.
Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan, the head of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), said that it was a "political decision" which makes "Europe lose reputation even more".
Židan believes that an outgoing European Commission should not adopt any major decisions and "as a European" he wished that the next European Commission would act differently.
Jožef Horvat of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) said that it was somewhat unusual for the outgoing Commission to take such an important decision, adding that the precise conditions that Croatia needed to fulfil were known.
"If such a decision is made casually, the Schengen regime will definitely collapse, as it has already been strongly undermined with controls on internal borders", he added.
Horvat said that the NSi "is not on the side of those who would make ultimatums", which Zmago Jelinčič of the opposition National Party (SNS) agreeing, saying that "Slovenia will achieve nothing by extorting Croatia."
They were probably referring to speculation Slovenia could make its approval of Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone conditional on Croatia fully implementing the border arbitration decision.
Matej T. Vatovec of the opposition Left too said that blocking Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone would be counter-productive.
He supports Croatia entering the Schengen zone as soon as possible as the borders would be eliminated, which would make life in the border area easier and be followed by the elimination of border fences and razor wire.
Slovenian MEPs have expressed different opinions about the assessment, but a majority regrets that it has been made by an outgoing Commission. They also noted that the EU Council will have the final say on the matter.
"I regret the move by the outgoing European Commission. Instead of eliminating internal borders ... it is giving the false hope of the expansion of Schengen," said Milan Brglez (S&D/SD).
His party colleague Tanja Fajon added that the "message from the Juncker commission would be remembered as one of the most political ever," as it suggested that accession to the Schengen zone was no longer a technical process.
Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj (both Renew/LMŠ) also regretted the European Commission making a "political" decision right before the end of the term.
They agree that the expansion of the Schengen zone is in everybody's interest, including Slovenia's, but that there should not be a sliver of doubt in the professionalism of such a decision.
Ljudmila Novak (EPP/NSi) said the decision should have been left to the new European Commission. "Today's decision will not be able to avoid the connotation of political, and not professional decision-making."
Agreeing with Novak, Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) said that the decision was inappropriate and unfair as the readiness of Croatia to effectively protect its borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia was being realistically doubted.
On the other hand, Romana Tomc (EPP/SDS) believes that the European Commission was unbiased and professional in its decision. She noted that the member states would have the final say in a consensual decision.
"This means that Prime Minister Šarec has the opportunity to prevent Croatia from entering Schengen if he thinks that there are reasons for this and if this benefits Slovenia," she added.
Her party colleague Milan Zver thinks that Croatia has taken the appropriate measures, and that the Slovenian public will welcome the elimination of the Schengen border between Slovenia and Croatia as this would mean smoother traffic.
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