Milestones of the Croatian EU Presidency 2020
Opinion by Željana Zovko, MEP
From January till June, Croatia sat at the head of the table in the Council of the European Union. For the first time in its six years of EU membership, it held the presidency of one of the political institutions. Within this capacity, Croatia was responsible for the continuity of the EU’s work by setting the agenda, leading the legislative processes and chairing the Council meetings and preparatory bodies. The presidency also represents the Council in relations with the other EU institutions. Given this historic but challenging experience, it is worth to have a look at Croatia’s biggest achievements in the first semester of 2020.
Crisis management during the Covid-19 pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic was an unforeseen factor that impacted the European agenda drastically and characterized the Croatian Presidency. To mitigate the effects on the European health systems, Croatia assured the possibility for suitable and swift decisions. Within the first months of its Presidency, Croatia decided to initiate the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR), which is a framework for coordination of cross-sectoral crises at the highest political level. By monitoring the developments of the pandemic and by organizing informal roundtables with representatives from key actors and chaired by the Presidency, the Council could coordinate the Member States’ responses and guarantee the functioning of the single market and the respect for the European values as much as possible.
In the last six months, Croatia showcased its leadership capacities by reacting promptly to this unprecedented crisis. It adapted its program and management to the new situation. Although Croatia was also facing difficulties due to the coronavirus and was struck by devastating earthquakes, the Croatian government still managed to guide the Council of the European Union in these unpredictable times. Croatia played a key role as an honest broker to change the discord among the Member States into a united and balanced approach. Together with the other institutions, the Council adopted emergency measures and financial support for the European citizens, heavily affected sectors and even for its partner states in the European Neighbourhood and the Western Balkans.
Western Balkans back on the EU agenda
The key priority of the Croatian Presidency was the revitalization of the EU relations with the Western Balkans and the enlargement policy. As youngest Member State, Croatia has the most recent experience of the accession process and all its complexities. In addition, Croatia is a frontier country with the longest external border and benefits directly from constructive cooperation with Southeast Europe and from the promotion of peace and security in the region. This knowledge makes the country the perfect mediator between the other Member States and countries in the Western Balkans.
After the European Council blocked the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, Croatia’s diplomatic efforts, led by Prime Minister Plenković, appeased the concerns of the Member States. These actions, together with the proposal of the new enlargement methodology by the European Commission, resulted in a new Council conclusion in March, this time affirming the possibility to start the negotiations for enlargement.
The main event of the Croatian presidency was without a doubt the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit. 20 years after the first Zagreb Summit, the EU head of states and governments met with their counterparts of the Western Balkan countries to reaffirm the European perspective for the region, including the political and financial commitment. Due to the corona crisis, the summit was held via videoconference. Nonetheless, the EU has sent a clear message to its partners in the Western Balkans. Next to the region’s path towards the EU, the summit also focused on the mobilization of 3 billion euros of European recovery assistance to the region and the special privileges for the region within European instruments.
A successful Presidency
Taking into consideration the unprecedented circumstances of the first semester of 2020, we can conclude that the Croatian Presidency was a great success. Thanks to the quick adaptation to remote meetings and virtual diplomacy, Croatia led the Council of the EU through a resolute crisis management and the continuity of the EU’s legislative processes, focusing on the emergent needs. Croatia brought the Member States around the table in difficult times bringing back hope to hope to its citizens and to its partner states around the world.