Croatia takes over EU Presidency

Tackling migration and speeding up the Western Balkans accession are among the country's priorities

On 1 January, Croatia assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council, the last country to do so from those accepted in the Union in the last two decades. According to local media, the country faces "the biggest challenge in its modern history" and "most difficult test of its maturity since independence", but at the same time it is a chance to show what it has achieved as EU member.

During the next six months, the youngest EU member will be in the spotlight, a great opportunity to present itself positively. However, it is expected of any country holding the EU presidency that it will set its own interests aside and promote pan-European issues rather than its own national goals. It is expected to act as a mediator, to help resolve current problems and find compromise solutions.

Already in October PM Andrej Plenković presented the four main elements or priorities of the Croatian Presidency - A Europe that develops, A Europe that connects, A Europe that protects, and An influential Europe. These four priorities are united in the motto "A strong Europe in a world of challenges" which summarises the vision of the EU acting for the benefit of its Member States and its citizens. In its work, the Croatian Presidency will also take into account the strategic documents that will be agreed between the EU institutions and the work programme of the new European Commission.

In the past two years, Croatia has proved an extremely reliable guardian of the bloc's external border, especially along what is referred to as the "Balkan route." Although not all EU states will say so openly, the majority clearly want to allow as few refugees into the EU as possible, and Croatia implements this very effectively. Its eastern border with the neighboring state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is strictly guarded, and any refugees who manage nonetheless to get through to Croatian — and thus EU territory — are immediately sent back.

One of the declared aims of Croatia's EU Council presidency is to press ahead with negotiations on the further European integration of the western Balkan countries. In particular, this refers to the announcement of a date for the start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. However, the continuation of negotiations that are already underway with Serbia, as well as closer rapprochement with Bosnia-Herzegovina, are also on the agenda. A separate EU summit will also be held to address these in Zagreb in May.

Croatia will try to help launch blocked EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia while the country holds the EU presidency for the next six months, Plenkovic said on Thursday. ‘’We will do our best to overcome problems and unblock the process that was held back at the summit in October 2019,'' he pointed out during a news conference.

Croatia is still in dispute with Serbia over various unresolved issues from their recent war-torn past. Zagreb places particular emphasis on the importance of clarifying the fate of the many people who are still missing and unaccounted for. It accuses Belgrade of failing to cooperate properly on this. Furthermore, it expects the Serbian government finally to put the war criminals from its own ranks on trial, and also, ideally, to admit that it was guilty of aggression.

The United Kingdom is scheduled to formally leave the European Union on January 31. After that, negotiations over Britain's future relations with the EU, including a free trade agreement, will begin. However, Croatia's role in this process will be more of a supporting one. "We want to help all EU members and the European Parliament to ratify the treaty ending British EU membership as early as January, so that we then have eleven months to reach an agreement on future relations," Andrej Plenkovic has said.

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