Presidency of the E.U. Council: a first for Croatia

Each country of the European Union takes a turn presiding over the European Union Council for a period of six months. Following Finland, who assumed the role from July to December of 2019, it is now Croatia’s turn for the first half of 2020. The nation that presides over the Council is responsible for organising and presiding over all E.U. Council formation meetings. The nation must also formulate compromises to resolve policy issues.

Key topics of the semester

In addition to the fundamental priorities, the Republic of Croatia has highlighted the importance of the following topics as part of its presidency over the European Union Council.

Seeking to promote an ambitious multiyear financial framework for the E.U. (2021-2027), it also wishes to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Within a context of negative demographic trends, the Croatian presidency highlights the importance of the Union’s rapprochement with its citizens, particularly its youth, in order to promote democracy, fundamental E.U. values, the fight against ‘fake news’, intolerance, and disinformation across digital platforms.

When the European Green Deal is launched, the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) will be added to the projects related to the new job markets, education, innovation, and life-long learning.

The Union’s security and strategic orientations as a place of liberty, safety and justice are also underlined, with a specific focus on the enlargement policy and the EU-Western Balkans summit meeting.

A developing, uniting, protecting and shining Europe

These four priorities are the key elements at the core of the Croatian presidency’s work these next six months. United under the slogan “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”, these priorities were presented by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on 30 October 2019 in Zagreb, which is to be the primary meeting place during the EU Council’s Croatian presidency.

When a country takes on the role of presidency, it must keep the priorities inherited from the previous presidency in mind. It also puts forward country-specific priorities, often related to its specific situation (geopolitical, economic, etc.), and must work on priorities arising from current events.

Priorities of the Trio of presidencies

The programme for the Romania-Finland-Croatia trio of presidencies has spent a year-and-a-half highlighting the importance of the Union’s common values: respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights. The trio has committed to promoting competitiveness, economic growth, and investment support, as well as strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion.

The programme’s major priorities have centred around employment, growth, and competitiveness in order to provide all citizens with the means to achieve their goals and to ensure their protection. This requires an energetic Union with a proactive climate policy. The countries have also sought to develop the Union’s position as a leading actor on the world stage in the promotion of liberty, safety and justice.

The countries to form the next trio are Germany (second half of 2020), Portugal (first half of 2021), and Slovenia (second half of 2021).

The challenges awaiting Zagreb

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, left for Zagreb on Thursday, 9 January 2020, to attend a concert given at the National Theatre in celebration of the beginning of Croatia’s first ever presidency over the EU Council.

The final country to join the European Union in 2013, Croatia will face a number of challenges during the six months following 1 January 2020. Not least of these is the “organisation of the relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom” following Brexit, as the Croatian minister of foreign affairs affirmed at the beginning of the month.

Another challenge awaiting the Croatian presidency is the situation of the Western Balkans wishing to join the bloc. Of the Western Balkans, only Serbia and Montenegro have begun the negotiating process to join the E.U., while Albania and North Macedonia have yet to begin the membership discussions, as they were blocked by France and other countries during a European Council meeting in October. Kosovo and Bosnia lag even further behind.

New government of coexistence in Zagreb

On Sunday, 5 January, the Croatians elected former socialist-democratic prime minister Zoran Milanović as their new president during a second round of voting, turning down incumbent Kolinda Grabar Kitarović (Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ) for a second five-year mandate and opening the door to a tense coexistence with the centre-right government currently in power.

The result was a surprise majority and took place just as Croatia began its turn presiding over the EU Council. The presidency cannot oppose the law, but it does receive a say in matters of defence, foreign policy, and intel, and is generally considered a moral authority and defender of the Constitution.

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