Priorities of the Croatian EU Council Presidency
Between January 1st and July 31st, Croatia will hold the rotating EU Council Presidency for the first time since it joined the EU in 2013.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković appeared before the European Parliament on January 14th to present and discuss his Presidency’s four main priorities: “A Europe that develops”, “A Europe that connects”, “A Europe that protects” and “An influential Europe”. Broadly, the Presidency aims to tackle the challenges of “uneven economic development, climate change, increased migration, dissemination of disinformation and growing populism”. Croatia sees itself during this time as “an honest broker” and has based its agenda on Croatian national priorities, the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 and the Trio programme.
The discussions on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (MFF) and Brexit are expected to be key challenges for this Presidency. Other challenges are the EU enlargement policy, where Croatia intends to foster accession negotiations concerning the Western Balkans (North Macedonia and Albania) despite recent rejection showed by some Member States; and the preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe.
A Europe that develops
The Croatian Presidency wants to take into account the specificities and needs of all Member States concerning the development of the European Union as a whole. The topics on which it intends to act are the deepening of the single market, the promotion of digitalisation, investment on research and innovation and life-long learning. All these issues are focused on increasing the competitiveness of the EU.
At the same time, following the adoption of the European Green Deal by the College of Commissioners, the Croatian Presidency will work towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement, contributing to the transition to low carbon and circular economy.
Regarding the discussions on the MFF, Croatia has expressed its desire to defend the importance of traditional cohesion and agricultural funds as well as the necessity to face contemporary challenges (mainly the ecological transition).
A Europe that connects
Croatia believes the EU’s strength comes from its network economy. Hence, it wants to promote the connection of European citizens in two dimensions. First, the creation of more transport, energy and digital/data infrastructure is regarded as primordial. In this regard, the Presidency wants to work towards a single European transport area.
The second dimension focuses on promoting the European values through cultural, sport and educational programmes. This includes further mobility for academic researchers and students, which will be part of the discussions for the Erasmus programme for education, training, youth and sport 2021-2027.
A Europe that protects
Internal security is another priority for the Balkan country. Aside from developing stronger resilience to external threats, mostly cyber-attacks, the focus will be on strengthening the external borders and reforming the Common European Asylum system.
The stated goal of the Croatian Presidency is to find a solution that allows for a “sustainable and effective migration and asylum policy”. This might be the most controversial point of its agenda as some groups have criticised the country for the measures it has implemented in the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An influential Europe
The Enlargement Policy of the EU is of special relevance to Croatia, as the set of priorities intended for increasing the international influence of Europe shows. Under the idea that only the EU as a whole and with a single voice can defend the interests of its members on the global stage, Croatia wants an effective EU-Western Balkans Summit (Zagreb, May 2020) that proves to be a breakthrough on the accession negotiations of North Macedonia and Albania.
Improving the transatlantic relations, as well as relations with third countries, is also a priority.
Overall, the emphasis of the agenda of the Croatian Presidency on creating more and “more connected” EU, seems to align with its own individual objectives concerning Europe, which are to accelerate its accession to the Schengen Area and to the Eurozone.
Miguel Ángel Zhan Dai