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December 8 (SeeNews) - Croatia will join the EU’s passport-free travel Schengen area on January 1, 2023, but Bulgaria and Romania failed to obtain the required unanimous support from all 27 member states for their accession bids, the EU Council said on Thursday.
On Thursday, Bulgaria was backed by 25 out of 27 member states, while Romania was just one vote short, EU Commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson said as seen in a live video broadcast by the EU Council.
"I will support all steps to ensure Bulgaria and Romania receive membership, they deserve to become members of Schengen as they fulfill all necessary criteria for admission. On this occasion, we are not united and that makes us weak," Johansson said.
“I am very pleased that during the Czech Presidency, Croatia was able to take two important steps in its European integration by joining both the euro and the Schengen areas,” Vit Rakusan, the interior minister of the Czech Republic which has held the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council since July, said in a press release by the European Council. “I am confident that these successes will pave the way for other member states who fulfil the conditions to take the next step in their European journeys, and my colleagues and I will continue to work hard to ensure that we can welcome Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen family in the near future,” he added.
As of January 1, checks on persons at internal land and sea borders between Croatia and the other countries in the Schengen area will be lifted and Croatia will start to issue Schengen visas and will be able to make full use of the Schengen information system.
Checks at internal air borders will be lifted from March 26, 2023, given the need for this to coincide with the dates of IATA summer/winter time schedule.
The Adriatic country of 3.9 million people will join the eurozone as of January as its 20th member.
The decision to let Croatia into the Schengen area is a strong impetus to the Croatian tourism and the country's economy, the Croatian tourism association said in a statement. The boost of the level of safety of the country, which the entry to the Schengen area brings, along with the entry to the eurozone as of January 1 and the adoption of the joint currency will additionally ease the arrival of tourists and will boost interest in Croatia among the EU countries and third countries, according to the head of the association, Veljko Ostojic.
Tourism is a key industry for the Croatian economy, contributing a fifth of the country's GDP.
Romania and Bulgaria have been waiting to join the Schengen area since 2011 when the EU Commission and Parliament first gave the green light for their accession.
In October, members of the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the abolition of checks at all internal borders for both countries from early 2023.
Last month, the EU Commission also urged the Council to take the necessary decisions without any further delay to allow Bulgaria and Romania to fully participate in the passport-free Schengen area.
Since then, both the Netherlands and Austria have openly voiced concerns about the two Southeast European countries' accession, citing problems with illegal migration from non-EU countries.
Currently, Bulgaria and Romania apply the Schengen acquis partially and checks are carried out at their borders.
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