Schengen dispute between Vienna and Zagreb

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) had previously confirmed his rejection of the EU Commission’s proposal to expand the Schengen area to include Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. The countries have been waiting to become part of the Schengen area since they joined the EU in 2007 and 2013 respectively. In this, controls at the internal borders are abolished, while the external borders are tightened.

However, Austria says that this system does not work and points to the high number of asylum seekers. Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) travels to Zagreb on Wednesday for bilateral talks. He will also discuss the Schengen expansion with Plenkovic, among other things, it said when asked by from the Federal Chancellery. Internal borders can only be open if the external borders are protected. Therefore, one will also address the external border protection.

criticism of Austria

“The reason why Austria is concerned is not Croatia, but the increasing number of asylum seekers in Austria,” Plenkovic said, according to the HINA news agency. While he understands Vienna’s concerns, he expects support and understanding for what Croatia has done on the way to fulfilling the Schengen entry criteria.

“I am confident that we will be successful in the end,” said Plenkovic ahead of Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s (ÖVP) visit to Zagreb on Wednesday. Croatian President Zoran Milanovic expressed himself more sharply. “The statements are worrying,” he said, looking at Karner.

Andrei Plenkovic

AP/Ondrej Deml

The Croatian Prime Minister is aiming for deeper integration of Croatia into the EU

Milanovic announced that he would speak to the Chancellor during Nehammer’s visit to Zagreb “and advocate for our accession”. “That’s all I can do,” said the former Social Democratic head of government. Karner’s opposition to the Schengen expansion is in reality “a settlement between some EU members at the expense of Croatia”.

MEPs stick to Schengen expansion

Meanwhile, Austrian members of the European Parliament are sticking to a Schengen expansion to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. The EU Parliament has agreed to the admission of the countries, there is no change, said the ÖVP MEP Lukas Mandl on Tuesday in Strasbourg. But “a wake-up call” is needed for speed and improvements in asylum and migration policy. “We don’t want Schengen to be called into question,” said SPÖ MEP Theresa Muigg.

Graphic on the Schengen area

Graphics: APA/; Source: EU Commission/

Schieder: Karner’s criticism “went nowhere”

SPÖ head of delegation Andreas Schieder said that Karner’s criticism of Schengen “had come to nothing” in the case of Croatia. With Bulgaria, “there are a few questions,” said Schieder, but he still supports Sofia’s entry into the Schengen area. Muigg warned against playing populist issues off against each other.

Asylum and migration package as a “basis for discussion”

MEPs called for a decision on the EU Commission’s asylum and migration package. Mandl described this as a good basis for discussion. What is still missing are solidarity and the crediting of previous benefits for refugee reception and cooperation with third countries in resettlement, i.e. the permanent resettlement of particularly vulnerable refugees in a third country that is willing to take them in.

Mandl sharply criticized the position of the European Parliament, which was decided by a majority, of wanting to grant all refugees and Ukrainians temporary protection status. That would be unrealistic and also send the wrong signal to people smugglers. Schieder complained that Austria was one of the countries that blocked the EU Commission’s migration proposals and are now criticizing the EU authority.

Mandl said clear rules are needed for asylum, irregular migration and legal immigration. Europe must arm itself, it should in particular raise concerns that Serbia is granting visa-free travel to citizens of countries that do not recognize Kosovo, thereby triggering migratory pressure. It’s part of hybrid warfare. Muigg pleaded for a uniform European asylum procedure, where an attempt is made to separate more and less promising applications from the start.

Vilimsky: Schengen is not the right concept

Harald Vilimsky, head of the FPÖ delegation, sharply criticized the Schengen system. “Schengen is not the right concept for the current times,” he said. The EU’s external border is not sufficiently protected. Therefore, states should have the right to protect their borders. Migration is stronger today than in 2015.

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