On 1st January 2020, Croatia, the youngest member of the EU, has assumed the EU Presidency. The Croatian Presidency comes at a special time, since it also accompanies the first 100 days of the new Commission.
Having been an EU member for six and a half years, Croatia took over the EU Presidency from Finland. The Finns look back on a mixed record of the last six months. They were successful in strengthening the rule of law, for example by linking it to EU funds and in reaching the agreement of almost all members of the European Council (except Poland) on climate neutrality by 2050. However, there was no progress regarding the negotiations on the Multiannual financial framework. The blockade of the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania is regarded as a setback of the EU expansion policy. As a Balkan state, Croatia is entrusted to play an important intermediary role.
The most important issues of the Croatian Presidency
The European Green Deal will be a major issue for the Croatian Presidency. This week, the Commission presented the financial plan for the mammoth project: The Just Transition Mechanism and the Investment plan for a sustainable Europe. However, the most important legislative dossier for the Croatian Presidency will be the Multiannual financial framework 2021-2027 (MFF). Ursula von der Leyen emphasised that she counted on Croatia to finalise the difficult budget negotiations. The Croatian Prime Minister Plenković gave the highest priority to the MFF negotiations. He pointed out that in light of the financial challenges of the European Green Deal, a balance with traditional financial items, such as the cohesion and agricultural policy had to be found.
Great Britain’s exit on 31st January will also be an important issue. The ratification of the withdrawal agreement by the EU will take place under the Croatian Presidency. Croatia will also assume a key role in the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, which were temporarily blocked in December. The so-called Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May should bring concrete results with regard to future EU expansion. The planning and structuring of the Conference on the Future of Europe will also take place during the Croatian Presidency, which is tasked with the Council’s General Approach. The two-year conference aims to bringing together European institutions and EU citizens to get reform proposals off the ground.
Croatia’s targets and priorities
According to Croatian leitmotifs, Europe shall be strong in a world full of challenges; it shall develop, connect, protect and be influential. The Croatian priorities put Europe’s role on the global stage at the forefront. In line with motto of an “influential Europe” for example, Croatia is expected to prepare the EU Africa strategy. In accordance with the European Green Deal, innovations and sustainable growth shall accompany the Presidency, in particular with regard to digitalisation and mobility. A European answer to the question of migration and the slogan “external border protection” is also part of the Croatian portfolio.
Parliament makes demands
Within the scope of a debate before MEPs, the European Social Democrats criticised the lack of a social policy agenda. Even though skills policy or the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights were briefly mentioned in the program, MEPs expected a stronger commitment to social issues, such as combatting child poverty or the gender pay gap. The Greens offered to be a partner in implementing the European Green Deal; however, they demanded a stronger input concerning the rule of law and with regard to protecting human rights. Due to violent push-backs of refugees and human rights violations, the Croatian border policy has been criticised.