Croatia’s Schengen membership in Three Questions

    • What is the importance of Croatia’s Schengen membership?

    2023 started with two important developments for Croatia as the country joined the Eurozone and Schengen. This move went down in history as a national success achieved after the 2013 European Union membership. The successive governments have also acted in synergy to achieve this goal. Schengen is the free movement agreement between European countries. Save for minor differences such as Norway and Switzerland, EU borders and Schengen jurisdiction almost overlap. With this new agreement, European countries have further achieved free movement and border union, with the union borders expanding for the first time in 11 years.

    The other side of the coin is the heavy price in terms of human rights that Croatia’s Schengen admission represents. Eight leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, ECRE, HRW and Oxfam, condemned Croatia’s admission to Schengen despite human rights violations at the border. In a joint statement at the beginning of December, these organizations blamed the EU bureaucracy, highlighting that EU institutions persistently turned a blind eye to human rights violations that occur at Croatia’s border activities. Violent acts against migrants on the borders of Croatia have been repeatedly recorded in recent years amidst total impunity. On the other hand, there is a considerable discrepancy between the values Brussels preaches and how it implements them. While the idea of Europe is based on the image of a civilized society that respects human rights and is prosperous, the treatment of migrants at the EU borders is far from the marketed image.​​​​​​​

    • What are the conditions underlying Croatia’s Schengen membership?

    There is no need to dive into the colonial legacy and look at the functioning of global capitalism, great historical narratives and political economy analyses to explain the state violence unleashed at the borders. It is sufficient to go to the Croatian border to understand the situation. Any migrant from the rest of the world trying to cross this border can provide a truthful testimony about the inhumane treatment there.

    Croatia has increasingly been on the radar of violence and human rights violations against migrants in recent years. Moreover, European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) directly partners with the Croatian border forces for border security. Let us not forget that Croatia is not one of the destination countries for migrants. Migrants coming to the Croatian borders from the Mediterranean or the Balkan route target countries further north, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In other words, Croatia’s border operations are directly backed by major EU stakeholders and constitute a necessary element in securing the frontiers of other EU countries.

    • What will be the costs of the membership?

    It is necessary to remember the shocking crimes against humanity that forces of other EU countries have perpetrated. Greek coastal forces repeatedly pushed migrants violently into Turkish territorial waters. Frontex was directly aware of the illegal activities of Greece and Malta in the Mediterranean, which was reported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). However, the report was obfuscated from public scrutiny for months. The Lighthouse Report proved that some migrants were captured by Greece in a kind of slavery system and used to push back other migrants violently. Considering all these scandals, it is difficult to say that the current policy of the EU regarding its borders is compatible with human rights. Therefore, it is rather naive for human rights organizations to issue shallow reports when the root causes are more entrenched.

    Looking at the bigger picture, it seems impossible not to ask the following question: Would Croatia have been included on the European side of the border if it had shown an approach that respected human rights and accepted the migrants’ asylum requests rather than implementing harsh policies towards them? In such a case, could Zagreb ever be considered for Schengen membership? 

    Conversely, the influx of migrants is an undeniable fact today. Overcoming this problem needs a deeper and broader discussion, one in which human rights are necessary. Unfortunately, as presently deployed, the human rights discourse merely whitewashes Brussels’ dirty policies. 

    Meanwhile, migrants continue to pay one of the highest prices of European realpolitik today, just like the price they paid for Croatia’s Schengen membership.

    This article originally appeared in the Analysis section of Anadolu Agency’s website.

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