Turning to the final point now of the College read-out: Schengen accession and our assessment of Croatia.
As some of you may know, today more than 400 million EU citizens can move freely between 22 EU countries and 4 associated non-EU countries, without having to go through controls at the borders.
The Schengen area is the largest free travel area in the world and it is one of the biggest achievements of European integration, one that benefits citizens very directly and very concretely.
This is an area that comes with freedoms and privileges, but also with great responsibilities. Joining this club is not something that we take lightly. But we do approach it honestly and fairly.
Croatia declared its readiness to start the Schengen evaluation process in all relevant policy areas in March 2015.
In 2017, President Juncker had committed to allow Croatia to become a full Schengen member once all the criteria would be met.
Our assessment is therefore the result of an almost 4-year long, diligent monitoring and evaluation process, during which Croatia made continuous progress and efforts to fulfil the requirements for joining the Schengen area of free movement.
Today we acknowledge and congratulate Croatia for this work.
We consider that Croatia has taken the measures needed to ensure that the necessary conditions for the application of all relevant parts of the Schengen acquis are met.
It is now for the Council to decide unanimously on Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area of free movement.
In the meantime, Croatia will need to continue working consistently on all ongoing actions in the field of external border management to ensure that these conditions continue to be met, especially by maintaining a high level of border surveillance at its external borders, in particular at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On our side, we will continue to work closely with Croatia to ensure this ongoing work continues to deliver results.
Our assessment also confirms that Croatia continues to fulfil the commitments it took when joining the EU that were relevant to the Schengen rules, in particular as regards the judiciary and the respect of fundamental rights.
I have said many times that a stronger, more protected and more resilient Schengen, is an inclusive Schengen.
The future Schengen accession of Croatia – but also of Bulgaria and Romania – is all the more relevant and necessary, given the migratory and security challenges of today.
We have done a lot to strengthen the protection of our external borders in the past months and years, so that free movement within Schengen can be preserved.
Let me also take this opportunity to reiterate that I strongly believe that now is the time to return to a normal functioning of our Schengen space, without internal border controls.
With Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania joining Schengen soon I hope, we would be even better equipped to protect this common area and to face common challenges together.
It is only by being united and standing together that we can ensure a stronger Schengen area and a safer Europe for our citizens.