The Schengen zone, the largest interstate area without border control in the world, should soon be extended to at least one new EU member state, if not three, writes this week ENR (European Newsroom).
Currently, the Schengen area consists of 22 EU member states and four non-EU countries. Now three more EU members are knocking on the door - Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Of the 27 EU member states, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland are currently not part of the Schengen area. On the other hand, the Schengen area includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which are not in the EU.
The Czech Republic, which is currently presiding over the European Union, has indicated that it wants Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to enter the Schengen zone together without border controls. It is expected that the EU Council will vote on it on December 9, and all the indicators are that Croatia will join the border free European zone.
It is proposed that from January 1, 2023, controls at the land and sea borders of Croatia with the Schengen countries be abolished, and from March 26, 2023, controls at airports.
Croatia's entry into Schengen is a special challenge for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which shares almost a thousand kilometres of border with Croatia, ENR points out.
There are strong economic, cultural and family ties between the two countries. BiH fears that the Schengen rules could "consolidate" the border.
Traders expect problems in the speed of the flow of goods across the border with Croatia. Between BiH and Croatia there are nine border crossings and 20 permanent crossings for cross-border traffic. Of the nine crossings, only two have a special status for phytosanitary monitoring.
Fruits, vegetables and all other goods that require this type of inspection can be exported through them. The Foreign Trade Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina has warned on several occasions that the application of Schengen inspection standards could create queues.
The border police announced that "Croatia's membership in Schengen will ensure the fulfilment of all criteria, and thus a very high level of security of the country's external borders. This is particularly important in the prevention of all forms of cross-border crime and illegal crossings in the context of the current migrant crisis".
With the support of the EU, Croatia has invested in the protection of the border, which is guarded by around 6,500 police officers.