President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker endorsed Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area and the eurozone on the second day of his first official visit to Croatia, Trend reported citing Xinhua.
He hopes, Juncker said, that a positive recommendation to join Schengen would be made to the European Council during the term of his Commission which ends on Oct. 31.
"Croatia is fully prepared to join the eurozone's entry mechanism, which will ultimately be decided by the European Central Bank, and the European Commission will support it," Juncker said here at a press conference he attended with the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
Juncker highlighted the growth of the Croatian economy and stressed that the country is in good shape. He also said that he is aware of Croatian demographic challenges, but that the country could use more European fund to get through that problem. He noted that Croatia could withdraw up to 11.5 billion euros (around 13 billion U.S. dollars) from the EU structural funds until 2020.
"I'm sorry that I won't be the president of the European Commission when Croatia assumes the European Union presidency on Jan. 1 next year," Juncker said.
Croatian PM Plenkovic stressed that Croatia expects to get a positive evaluation of its progress in fulfilling the criteria to enter the Schengen Area before the end of this European Commission's term. He said that Croatia has done a lot in that regard and spent 240 million euros for that purpose.
Plenkovic voiced a hope that Croatia would fulfill the last conditions, and for that purpose, efforts have been made to maintain the external borders and enhance the cooperation with neighboring countries.
After meeting the prime minister, Juncker had a meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic. The president's office announced in a press release that the two talked about recent European Parliament elections, Croatia's priorities during its presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2020, and demographic challenges across the EU.
The Croatian president emphasized at the meeting that joining the Schengen Area and eurozone are Croatia's strategic goals. "We are ready to fulfill all criteria to join the Schengen Area as soon as possible," Grabar-Kitarovic told Juncker at the meeting.