Croatia is one step closer to joining the Schengen border-free area.
European Union governments concluded on Thursday that the country “fulfilled the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen acquis,” the EU Council said.
The decision is the first formal step towards a final Council decision on enlargement of the Schengen area,” the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union said in a tweet.
Countries joining the free movement area must be able to ensure the security of the bloc’s external border — a sensitive political topic due to migration since 2015.
Critics say Croatia has been overzealous in showing it can protect the bloc’s external borders.
Last summer, footage released by European news outlets showing a Croatian police officer beating migrants with a stick sparked outrage.
Croatia’s Schengen membership is also a sensitive topic for Romania and Bulgaria, who have been EU members since 2007 and are yet to join the free-movement area.
At a time when the rest of the Western Balkans seem to be lagging behind in their bid to join the EU, Croatia is considered a success story in the region.
Zagreb joined the EU in 2013 and also wants to become a member of the single-currency eurozone.
The Commission had recommended Croatia’s membership in 2019.