Ambassador of Croatia Igor Pokaz writes at the start of his country’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union

AT THE START OF THIS YEAR, the Republic of Croatia began its first ever Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It is a huge undertaking for the newest member state to be at the helm of the second largest global economy less than seven years after joining the EU.

When Croatia joined the EU on 1 July 2013, it was not just a historical achievement, but a crucial landmark in a truly extraordinary journey of transformation: from destruction and human suffering during the Homeland War to peace; from defence of the country’s very existence to membership in the UN, EU, NATO and other key international fora; from being supported, to providing support to others; from post-war reconstruction to holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU.

This journey highlights the importance of resilience, persistence, and working together towards a shared goal, which are the very same qualities that have helped the EU overcome many challenges in its history, and which it will need to overcome the many challenges it faces today.

From uneven economic development, climate change and migration, to demographic decline, growing populism and the spreading of disinformation, we are faced with questions that can be answered only by a Europe that is strong, united and that works for its citizens. This ambition is reflected in the title of the Croatian Presidency Programme – A Strong Europe in a World of Challenges. Our priorities are structured under four pillars: a Europe that develops, a Europe that connects, a Europe that protects, and an influential Europe.

The Presidency is a paramount task for our government and our state administration, and we approach it with a sense of great honour and responsibility. It comes at a decisive time for Europe and its future, with many challenges and opportunities lying ahead.

First of all, it takes place in a completely new institutional landscape, with the new Commission, new Parliament, new President of the European Council and new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Secondly, it takes place at the crucial time of negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework for the period between 2021 and 2027, which will define the kind of role Europe wants to play for much of this decade.

Thirdly, the Croatian Presidency will launch preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe, and it hopes that it will foster optimism in Europe and make Croatian and European citizens more interested in the European processes. The Croatian Commissioner for Demography and Democracy will lead the effort on this.

Fourthly, as a country that is strongly supporting EU enlargement, Croatia has an important role to play in ensuring the continued vitality of this policy, which is why a major summit between the EU and South East European countries will be held in Zagreb in early May, and the Presidency will work hard to ensure that positive messages are sent to aspiring countries in the run up to the Summit. The purpose of the Summit is to show these countries that their European journey continues, and that the EU will help them on this path.

Despite all these important topics, our Presidency will likely be most remembered as the Presidency during which the UK left the EU. It is a sort of historic irony that the youngest EU member state will bid farewell to the first country ever leaving the EU. But as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her speech at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the EU has – despite its regrets – always fully respected the UK’s decision, and the EU and the UK will still be the best of friends and partners after 1 February 2020.

The negotiations on withdrawal were difficult, but we have proven that it is possible to agree a deal. These are the good foundations for the next phase of negotiations, despite the well-known challenges that lie ahead.

In parallel to our Presidency commitments, Croatia will continue to work on the preparations to enter the Schengen Area and join the European Exchange Mechanism and later introduce the euro.

The Presidency is always a great opportunity to present the richness of a national culture. To mark the beginning of the Presidency, the Croatian Embassy in London organised an exhibition by Vasko Lipovac, one of the most instantly recognisable artists in Croatia, which is open until 15 February at Europe House in London. We will celebrate Europe Day with a concert by the vocal ensemble Antiphonus that is co-organised with the European Parliament Liaison Office in the UK. We plan to bring prominent Croatian films to London audiences in the form of a film festival. An exhibition and a lecture about Ivan Meštrović, the most renowned Croatian sculptor, is being prepared, as well as other cultural events.

On behalf of the Croatian Embassy in London, I can only commend the work of our Finnish and Romanian colleagues, who did an excellent job during their presidencies and with whom we worked as part of Trio. The Representation of the European Commission in London, which will soon transition into the Delegation of the European Union, has been a great support to our Presidency and its work in the context of EU citizen rights has been invaluable.

During our Presidency and beyond we look forward to working closely with all our counterparts in London for the goal of a strong Europe in a world of challenges.




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