ZAGREB, Croatia: On January 1, Croatia became a full member of the European Union, removed dozens of border controls and switched its currency to the euro.
After joining the EU’s ID-check-free Schengen zone, Croats now belong to nearly 420 million people who can freely travel around the bloc’s 27 member states without passports for work or leisure.
Adopting the euro will also allow Croatia to benefit from deeper financial ties with the 19 eurozone countries and the European Central Bank, as well as ease travel and business, removing the difficulties of currency exchange for Croatians traveling abroad and for tens of thousands of EU tourists.
During the ceremony at the Bregana border crossing with Slovenia, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic greeted the last travelers to have their passports checked.
“We opened our doors to borderless Europe. This goes beyond eliminating border controls, it is the final confirmation of our European identity,” Bozinovic said.
The Croatian kuna and the euro will be in dual use for cash payments for only 14 days, and from January 15 people will receive only euros in change.
Many Croatians see joining the eurozone as proof that their country has completed a difficult journey into the European mainstream, 31 years after it fought a war for independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia that killed 20,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
“We used to dream about this and I’m glad we lived to see it happen. I hope this means we’re finally part of Europe,” said Zlatko Leko, a resident of the southern port city of Split.