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Croatia has obtained the go-ahead to affix Europe’s Schengen passport-free journey zone in January in a long-awaited resolution that leaves out Bulgaria and Romania.

The choice got here on December 8 throughout a gathering in Brussels of inside and justice ministers of EU and Schengen states and was heartily welcomed by Croatia however greeted unhappily by Bulgaria and Romania.

“The Schengen space is rising for the primary time in additional than a decade,” tweeted the Czech Republic, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “Ministers accepted Croatia’s membership as of 1 January 2023!”

Croatia’s delegation to the EU additionally responded enthusiastically.

“Final step accomplished! Council resolution adopted — It’s now formally confirmed that #Croatia joins #Schengen space as of 1 January 2023,” it mentioned on Twitter.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic wrote on Fb that, with the open borders, Croatia “has fulfilled the strategic targets of the federal government” and that “residents and the economic system could have the most important profit.”

Deputy Prime Minister Davor Bozinovic mentioned Croatia met all of the situations in an extended and demanding course of.

“With Croatia in Schengen, everybody advantages — the residents, the economic system, Croatia and the EU,” he mentioned.

Twenty-six international locations — 22 EU states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland — at the moment comprise the
Schengen space. Croatia will change into its twenty seventh nation and the primary to affix because the space was expanded in 2011 to confess Liechtenstein.

The EU mentioned Schengen is the biggest free-travel space on this planet. Inside it there are 1.25 billion journeys yearly and three.5 million border crossings every day, it mentioned.

The transfer required unanimous help from the 27 EU members. Croatia’s bid obtained no notable opposition, whereas the membership of Romania and Bulgaria was opposed by Austria and the Netherlands, citing corruption and migration considerations as growing numbers of individuals cross its borders with out authorization by way of the Balkans area.

Austrian Inside Minister Gerhard Karner famous that greater than 100,000 individuals have entered Austria this yr with out authorization.

“It’s improper {that a} system that doesn’t work correctly in lots of locations would get expanded at this level,” he mentioned.

All through the bloc within the first 10 months of 2022, 281,000 irregular entries have been recorded, up 77 p.c from a yr earlier than and the best since 2016, Frontex, the EU’s border police, mentioned final month.

German Overseas Minister Annalena Baerbock had urged Austria to vary its thoughts particularly at time when it’s “essential that Europe strikes nearer collectively,” she mentioned in an announcement.

The Netherlands additionally opposed granting entry. The Dutch parliament in October adopted a decision saying additional evaluation of the functioning of the rule of regulation and the extent of corruption and arranged crime in Bulgaria and Romania was wanted.

Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca mentioned he was disillusioned and would reapply.

“We remorse and truthfully don’t perceive the rigid place taken by Austria,” he mentioned.

Honor Keleman, Romania’s deputy prime minister, nonetheless, was incensed by the end result and vowed to “proceed to combat” to affix Schengen “with out giving in to Austria’s depressing blackmail,” he wrote on Fb.

Bulgaria will even strive once more, its overseas minister mentioned.

Bulgarian Inside Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev was cautiously optimistic, saying he thought widespread floor might be discovered to beat the objections of Austria and maybe the Netherlands.

“Austria already signaled that there are mechanisms, compromises that it is able to settle for. So, the talks will proceed,” he instructed reporters.

European Commissioner for House Affairs Ylva Johansson mentioned Romania and Bulgaria should be full members of Schengen and have entry to free motion.

“I share the frustration with the residents of Bulgaria and Romania,” he mentioned.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

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