(Update: adds Von der Leyen remarks)
Zagreb, Jan 1 (EFE).- Croatia on Sunday joined the Schengen area of visa free movement and switched its currency to the euro, a decade after joining the European Union.
As the New Year was brought in at midnight, barricades were lifted at Croatia’s 73 border crossings with Slovenia and Hungary, marking its integration into the Schengen area.
Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic and his Slovenian counterpart, Sanja Ajanovic, welcomed the new year by jointly lifting the barrier at the Bregana-Obrezje crossing between the two countries, and toasted with a glass of champagne.
“We opened our doors to borderless Europe. This goes beyond eliminating border controls, it is the final affirmation of our European identity,” Bozinovic said.
Simultaneously, a similar event was held at the Croato-Hungarian border crossing of Gorican-Letenye, presided over by Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and Hungarian MP Peter Cseresnyes.
At a ceremony with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and newly appointed Slovenian President Natasa Pirc Musar later on Sunday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said it was a day of “joy and pride” for Croatians and “all European citizens”.
“It is a day to celebrate. It is the season of new beginnings – the first of January – new chapters that are being opened and there is no place in Europe where it is more true today than here at the border between Croatia and Slovenia,” she said.
In many other parts of the country too Croatians celebrated their integration into the Schengen area as its 27th member.
This also coincided with the country switching their currency to the euro.
Finance Minister Marko Primorac and Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujcic took part in a symbolic act in the center of Zagreb, withdrawing the first banknotes of the European currency in the Balkan country from an ATM. EFE