The European Commission recommended on Tuesday that Croatia joins the border-free Schengen area, more than four years after the Balkan country applied for membership.

Croatia became an EU member in 2013 but to join the Schengen area it had to convince Brussels that it was able to effectively manage the bloc's external border, a particularly sensitive issue since Europe's 2015 migrant crisis.

Membership of the Schengen zone is expected to benefit the Croatian economy and its tourism sector which accounts for nearly one fifth of the country's output, as checks to the cross-border movement of people would be removed.

‘Croatia has taken the measures to ensure that the necessary conditions are met (to join Schengen),’ the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Strasbourg.

The decision to allow Croatia to join the Schengen area must be upheld by all EU governments. France last week blocked the opening of EU membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania despite the commission's recommendation to begin negotiations.

‘Croatia will need to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders,’ the commission said in a note.

The Schengen zone comprises 22 of the EU's 28 member states as well as four non-EU members - Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. As well as Croatia, the other EU members not in Schengen are Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.