Croatia Welcomes 2023 With Euro And Schengen
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ZAGREB (Worthy News) – Heavily Catholic Croatia rang in the New Year with the euro currency and by joining European Union’s border-free Schengen zone a decade after joining the EU.
While fulfilling longstanding ambitions of close integration with Europe, the adoption of the euro came amid concerns it could initially lead to higher prices in the Balkan nation.
Croatia’s inflation rate reached 13.5 percent in November compared with 10 percent in the eurozone.
At least some businesses are facing troubles too.
The owner of a small bureau de change in the center of Zagreb, who gave his name as Ante, closed his business at the end of December. “After almost thirty years in the same place, this is the end of the line. There is no point in continuing as only about 5 percent of our transactions are in other currencies. The rest is all in euros.”
Ivanka Popek, a hairdresser, said her main concern was the conversion, as citizens are still allowed to pay in the national kuna currency during the first two weeks of January, but any change must be returned in euros.
“So yes, I expect problems. I bought a pack of Eurocents worth 1,000 kunas (about 140 euro) to get through those first two weeks.”
Officials defended the decision to join the eurozone and Schengen, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković saying Wednesday that they were “two strategic goals of a deeper EU integration.”
They also see the adoption of the euro as a natural progression for a country where the single currency already accounts for half of its total bank deposits and 60 percent of total investment – more than any country outside the eurozone.
And euro enthusiasts stressed that eastern EU members with currencies outside the eurozone, such as Poland and Hungary, have been even more vulnerable to surging inflation.
After the clock struck midnight, Finance Minister Marko Primorac and National Bank Governor Boris Vujčić pulled out the first euro notes from a Croatian cash machine.
Also on Sunday, at the Bregana border crossing with neighboring Slovenia, police took down signs at midnight, and a barrier was lifted for the last time. Then a placard reading “free passage” was installed, symbolizing the end of border checks.
“It is the season of new beginnings. And there is no place in Europe where this is more true than here in Croatia,” said EU chief Ursula von der Leyen as she arrived in Croatia, referring to the euro adoption and free travel.
She met Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Slovenian President Natasa Pirc Musar at a border crossing with EU member Slovenia. Later she was also seen in a cafe in Zagreb, the capital, where her host paid in euros for drinks.
Croatia, a former Yugoslav republic of nearly 4 million people that fought a war of independence in the 1990s, joined the EU in 2013.
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