Croatia takes helm of EU

Croatia began to preside over the Council of the European Union (EU) on Wednesday, the first time since its EU accession in July 2013.

In his New Year’s message, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic mentioned Tuesday that the presidency will further enhance the political and economic affirmation of Croatia in 2020, and that the new year will be a year of further economic development and international positioning of Croatia.

The government adopted a program for the presidency on Dec. 27, 2019 at the last cabinet session of the year. The slogan of the presidency will be “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”. The program is based on four pillars: “a Europe that develops, a Europe that connects, a Europe that protects, and a Europe that is influential”.

Plenkovic stressed that the program contains Croatia’s national priorities and is in line with the new strategic agenda of the EU for the 2019 to 2024 period.

The program says that Croatia’s presidency will support “a balanced, sustainable and inclusive growth of the EU that takes account of the specificities and needs of all member-countries, their regions and citizens”, Croatian news agency HINA reported. Croatia will “encourage policies directed at promoting the EU’s infrastructure connectivity and at bringing its citizens closer, primarily through education, culture, and sports.”

The document also says that the presidency will advocate “the continuation of consistent, effective and credible enlargement policy, as an investment in the stability, security and further economic development and connectivity of the European continent.”

It announces that the presidency will advocate talks with Albania and North Macedonia, both candidate countries, as well as with Bosnia and Herzegovina to obtain its status as a candidate country. Croatia will also encourage the fulfillment of the necessary criteria for the further progress of Montenegro and Serbia in their accession talks.

During its presidency, Croatia will work hard to reach an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), a seven-year EU budget which is one of the most important tasks facing the EU.

Croatia’s EU presidency coincides with the runoff of its presidential election on Sunday, as well as Brexit, which is supposed to happen at the end of the month.

Croatia has set aside 50 to 70 million euros (56 million to 78 million U.S. dollars) for its six-month rotating presidency, according to national broadcaster HRT. The renovation of the National and University Library in Zagreb, which will be used as the main conference venue during the presidency, has cost 95 million kuna (14.3 million U.S. dollars).

According to HINA, some 1,400 meetings of different levels will be held in the following six months, most of them taking place in Brussels. Some 160 events in relation to the presidency will be held in Croatia, including a summit meeting between the EU and the Western Balkans in May in Zagreb, while over 200 ministerial and technical level meetings will also take place in the country.

The official start of the presidency will be marked on Jan. 9 in Zagreb. A concert will also be held in Brussels on Jan. 15 to mark the Croatian presidency.