H.E. Irena Andrassy: We want to reinvigorate EU enlargement policy

At the Summit in Zagreb we need to discuss and shape the approach towards the Western Balkans for the next period

Irena Andrassy

Our motto 'A strong Europe in a world of challenges' was inspired by two ideas: that the Presidency is coming in when the EU is facing a number of important challenges - political, economic, societal, not only global but also within the EU, and that the answer to these challenges has to be strong, common, European, says H.E. Irena Andrassy, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Croatia to the EU, in an interview to Europost.

Ambassador Andrassy, in the beginning of this year Croatia took over for the first time the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. What will be in the forefront of the six-month work schedule?

Under the motto 'A strong Europe in a world of challenges', we have divided our Presidency priorities into four pillars: 'A Europe that develops', 'A Europe that connects', 'A Europe that protects' and 'An influential Europe'.

Through these four priority pillars, we tried to encapsulate everything that we as Presidency have to deal with. Our motto 'A strong Europe in a world of challenges' was inspired by two ideas: that the Presidency is coming in when the EU is facing a number of important challenges - political, economic, societal, not only global but also within the EU, and that the answer to these challenges has to be strong, common, European. Therefore, we need a strong, unified and very agile EU - in everything we do, in terms of instruments and financial capacity we can use and in terms of global assertiveness. This is vital if we want the EU to be able to strongly promote its interests and values, as well as the international rules-based order and multilateralism.

We want to take forward all the main strategic documents such as the EU Strategic Agenda, as well as the new proposals by the Commission, for the benefit of all our European citizens.

We also want to ensure a well-prepared, open and inclusive discussion on what kind of European Union and Europe we want to see in the future through the envisaged Conference on the Future of Europe. We will very soon engage with the Commission and the Parliament on how and when to launch this Conference, hopefully during our Presidency.

We have to agree on which kind of conference we actually want, and what we need to discuss with our citizens, with regard to shaping a medium-term and a longer-term vision of the EU.

What place should the Green Deal have at the debate on the future of Europe?

The proposed European Green Deal is very much linked to our discussions on the future of Europe. It is about approaching sustainable development of the European Union in a new way. That will also be something that will give very important strategic value to our first pillar 'A Europe that develops'.

The Green Deal is a paradigm shift in terms of how we understand where our economy and our growth and jobs are going, with a view to saving our planet and contributing to the global objectives of fighting climate change and protecting the environment. It also means a change in our approach to using different energy resources, especially the cleaner and greener ones.

This will shape our work during the six months of our Presidency, as it is a very horizontal file that belongs to various Council configurations. A lot of colleagues are involved and a lot of issues are being discussed, including how we will finance this transition to greener and cleaner economy.

What will be the Presidency's main tasks concerning Brexit?

When discussing the future, it is with profound sadness that we see one Member State leaving the EU.

We will have to manage this process and firstly ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Immediately after that, we will start discussing the framework and the mandate for our negotiations with the UK on our future relationship. As Presidency, we hope this process goes smoothly so that we can arrive to a very strong EU mandate for the negotiations with the UK side, to be taken forward by our chief negotiator Mr Michel. We hope to build a close future relationship with our former member.

What are your ambitions about the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF)?

Among all the priorities, we have some that are very specific for the Presidency and some that are very horizontal. Most of the horizontal ones are those that are vital for the entire EU, like the discussions on the MFF. In close cooperation with President of the European Council Charles Michel, who is responsible for the overarching MFF deal, we are taking forward the discussions on the MFF legislative part with the EP. We are trying to finalise as much technical work as possible during our Presidency, while waiting for the highest level political guidance from the European Council to be able to finalise the full legislative package. Deciding on the next MFF also has to do with giving an idea of what kind of Europe the Member States want to see, and how ambitious in terms of financial contribution, in order to address all the challenges and deliver on our promises that we are making to our citizens.

The Western Balkans and the enlargement process have a special top place on the Presidency to-do list. Do you expect the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb in May to be a turning point, giving clear course for the EU perspective of these countries?

The enlargement policy is also linked to the wider discussion on what kind of Europe we want to see in the future. As a country that has joined the Union six and a half years ago and that understands very well the situation in the region, we want to reinvigorate this policy during our Presidency. We want to put it on the table as an item of strategic, economic and political importance for our leaders, and we will organise a summit in May in Zagreb to discuss and shape the approach towards the region for the next period. Before the summit, we will also need to find a good way to proceed with the strengthening of the accession process, with the new methodology that we are expecting the Commission to present in early February. This should be followed by taking decisions on the two countries that are first in the row to open negotiations.

We are ambitious in taking this forward and we would like to arrive at a positive decision for both countries, hopefully in March.

Could you please elaborate a little bit on the other priority pillars of the Croatian semester?

Our Presidency programme will focus as well on the strengthening of the internal market and the Economic and Monetary Union. In the national capacity, and as a country that doesn't have euro as its currency, we want to push forward the implementation of all the measures that we need in order to arrive at the ERM II.

Then, under 'A Europe that connects', we will promote better energy, transport and digital infrastructure, as well as better connectivity, not only within Europe, but also in the EU's immediate neighbourhood.

At the same time, we are promoting another very important part of connectivity, which is the connection among people. That fits well with our emphasis that whatever we do, we have to do it for the benefit of the citizens, so that they can feel and see how the EU is improving their lives very directly and every day.

They can travel freely, they can study in different Member States, they can have research projects co-financed by the EU, they can exchange scientific results, but also traditions and cultures. This is an important part of what we feel - as the youngest Member State - that the EU should be.

'A Europe that protects' goes into internal and external security challenges of the EU. We actually put very high on our agenda some new threats like cyber threats and hybrid threats.

What contributions is the Presidency expected to deliver on the migration issues?

Migration is not only about movements of people. It is also linked with our security agenda, especially when it comes to protecting our borders.

This issue creates a lot of tensions because we don't have a proposal yet on the table that is conducive to reaching agreement between Member States on how to deal with migration pressures. Also, how to agree on an asylum policy that is acceptable to everybody. Or how to reform our approach to movements of people that will continue - they will not stop.

We have an ambition to approach these issues in a very comprehensive, holistic way that also involves dialogue with third countries where we can find root causes of increased migration. At the same time, we have to find a way to discuss all the elements of the migration story, which is also about distinguishing between people that need international protection, who are fleeing from the war areas, and those who are coming because they are in search of a better life in Europe - legally and illegally. Irregular movements and pressures bring a lot of tension to the table, so we need to go back to the agenda of regularity.

Legal migration should be discussed as well. There are human stories at stake. We need to take care of our labour markets. We have to discuss how to be an attractive market that deals with a lot of demographic challenges and that has to tackle the fact that the European continent is getting older. We have an ageing population; we have depopulated areas. We have people leaving the Member States' regions because they don't feel that they have opportunities, and at the same time we have people wanting to come to Europe.

What is your plan about Europe as a global actor?

Our fourth pillar 'An influential Europe' addresses this question. We have a firm focus on our immediate neighbourhood. I already mentioned one priority, which is the Western Balkans and our partners there, and the second one is the Eastern Partnership. This policy has celebrated its 10-year anniversary. It has to be revised in order to be fit for purpose for the next 10 years or so. For instance, 20 deliverables for 2020 need to be analysed so that we can assess the results we have, and then decide on how to take this policy forward.

That will be a discussion in June, when an Eastern Partnership summit will be organised on the margins of the European Council, and chaired by Mr Charles Michel.

We will collaborate with the Commission services and the EEAS, as well as other Member States, to find a proper narrative for reinvigorating this policy for the next period.

This doesn't mean that we will leave aside the preparations of many other meetings with our very important and strategic partners around the world, while continuing to promote our common values and interests.

 

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Ambassador Irena Andrassy is Croatia's Permanent Representative to the European Union. Previously, during accession negotiations of Croatia to the European Union, she served as a legal adviser to Croatia's Chief Negotiator and as Negotiator for all legal matters and the Accession Treaty preparations. She was representative of Croatia in Coreper I and then Deputy Head of two Cabinets of Commissioner Neven Mimica. In 2018, she was appointed Principal Adviser at the EC Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.

 

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