ZAGREB, February 6, 2018 – The equality of states, citizens and opportunities is important for further building Europe’s future and for the credibility of the European project, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the European Parliament on Tuesday, underlining joint achievements as an instrument in building the EU’s future.
A strong Europe primarily means strong member-countries while the consolidation of sovereignty at the EU level strengthens the member-states to their benefit and the benefit of their citizens, he said. “We also want strong European institutions which, in line with their powers, work to the benefit of all EU citizens,” said the PM.
He warned in his address about a number of challenges that require the harmonisation of key strategic decisions to make the EU successful. Those challenges range from security challenges, such as terrorism, cyber attacks, conflicts in the neighbourhood, to challenges related to demographic changes and increased migrations and challenges related to nature such as climate change or those resulting from globalisation processes, such as social inequality or the digital divide, said Plenković, underlining the need for a common response to those challenges.
Commenting on ways to make the EU stronger, safer and more prosperous, the Croatian prime minister underlined the importance of further EU enlargement following the exit of Great Britain.
Croatia is proof of the transformative potential of the prospect of EU membership and that the EU is a peace project that strongly contributes to reconciliation and trust-building. We should use that potential to make our neighbourhood better and more resilient, thus making ourselves stronger, safer and more prosperous, said Plenković.
He stressed that the EU continued to be a community which many aspired to join, from Western Balkan countries to Turkey, and noted that aside from Croatia’s six neighbouring countries, the EU would one day want to see Ukraine in its ranks as well.
He recalled that today the European Commission would present its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, and called for paying special attention in the strategy to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country which, he said, had a difficult past like Croatia.
Plenković explained that the country had a specific internal organisation, based on three constituent peoples – the Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs – in which the full equality of those peoples should form the foundation of the country’s future. Only if it is firmly anchored in EU values can Bosnia and Herzegovina guarantee a safe and stable future to its citizens, said Plenković.
The EU faces major security and political challenges in its eastern and southern neighbourhood, which is why it is in the interest of all member-states to help their neighbours consolidate and build prosperous, peaceful, stable and primarily democratic systems, said Plenković.
Promises to candidates and potential candidates should be met, just as those countries should meet the set criteria and implement the necessary reforms, he said.
As for the numerous challenges and threats, he said that they required a stronger, more active and more assertive role of the EU in global relations. Achieving the EU’s global ambitions requires stronger and more efficient common foreign, security and defence policies, he said.
He noted that terrorist attacks in Europe and other threats revealed Europe’s vulnerability, underlining the need to care about one’s own security within and outside one’s own country’s borders, and he welcomed the strengthening of defence capabilities and cooperation in the defence sector.
“Protecting the EU’s external borders is one of our most important tasks… The full implementation of systematic checks on the border between two member-states when only one of them is part of the Schengen area (of passport-free movement) has shown that that can pose a problem for the freedom of movement of people in the EU,” Plenković warned, adding that those problems were solved in an open and sincere communication.
Croatia is already contributing to the protection of the EU’s external borders and our next priority is accession to the Schengen area. In that context, we also support the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, he said.
Speaking of the EU’s future, Plenković underlined one of its main principles – the principle of solidarity.
Croatia, where 25 years ago every sixth person was a displaced person or a refugee, shares the responsibility for the agreed relocation and resettlement of migrants, he said in a comment on the migrant crisis that has shaken Europe.
He warned that in 2004 the EU accounted for one third of the global GDP and that today it accounts for less than a quarter, as well as that the EU should continue signing trade agreements with third countries in order to invest in its further economic development and its citizens’ prosperity.
As for the further development of the European project, he said that it was important to ensure democratic legitimacy.
The European Parliament constitutes the strongest link between decisions at the EU level and EU citizens and that link should be additionally strengthened, he said, supporting the continuation of the Spitzenkandidat concept in that context to enable citizens to more easily recognise future candidates for EC President and their ideas.
As for trans-national slates, he wondered whether “we are sufficiently prepared at national level in terms of organisation, legislation and finance for the introduction of trans-national slates.”
He welcomed a proposal for the new set-up of the European Parliament under which Croatia would get an additional seat.
As for Croatia’s presidency of the Council in 2020, he said that it would provide an opportunity to further develop and promote the European project. Our priorities are growth, development, connectivity and enlargement, said the PM.