ZAGREB, January 18, 2018 – Migration, Europe’s future and digital development were the main topics on the EU’s agenda in 2017, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in parliament on Wednesday while presenting a report on meetings of the European Council in 2017, with emphasis on Croatia.
Along with work on creating, implementing and following EU policies, Croatia in 2017 also presented a national strategy for the introduction of the euro, it continued meeting conditions for accession to the Schengen area of passport-free travel and continued advocating and supporting EU enlargement to Southeast Europe, the report notes.
In 2017 the EU was presided over by Malta and Estonia, with Malta’s presidency in the first half of the year having been marked by the issue of migration and political discussions about the future of the EU on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, while Estonia’s presidency put emphasis on digital development, said Plenković.
The EU continues the discussion on the reform of the asylum policy in 2018 and an agreement on the matter should be reached by June. However, the Visegrad Group countries are hampering the process by continuing to oppose binding quotas for the redistribution of refugees.
In that context, Plenković said that Croatia had undertaken to take in 1,583 refugees from Greece, Italy and Turkey. So far, 60 people have been taken over from Greece, 21 from Italy and 48 from Turkey, he said, recalling that in December Croatia paid EUR 200,000 into the Fund for Africa.
As for discussions on the future of Europe, Plenković said that he would present Croatia’s positions on the matter at a plenary session of the European Parliament in early February.
He underlined that by 2019 Croatia was expected to meet all technical requirements for accession to the Schengen area.
Croatia will also continue meeting conditions for the introduction of the euro and hopes to be ready to enter the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), a kind of waiting room for the euro, by 2020, he said, adding that the country was expected to introduce the euro by the end of the term of the next government.
As for further EU enlargement, he said that the European Commission would present a new enlargement strategy in February, and that the strategy was expected to include a message of encouragement to Southeast European countries to persist in their efforts to join the EU.
The PM also recalled that in the first half of 2020 Croatia would be chairing the EU as part of a troika to preside over the EU over an 18-month period, the other two countries being Romania and Finland.
The focus of Croatia’s EU presidency will be on encouraging further EU enlargement, economic growth and employment, and better transport and energy connections in Europe, he said.
Noting that EU enlargement would be one of the priorities of Bulgaria’s EU presidency in the first half of this year, Plenković said that a summit of EU member countries and Western Balkan countries would be held in Sofia in May.
He underlined that last year Croatia joined closer European cooperation in the field of defence (PESCO) together with 24 other EU members.
That cooperation for the time being envisages 17 specific projects and Croatia is taking part in five of them, focusing on assistance in natural disasters, military deployability, military mobility, logistics and cyber security, he said.
With regard to Brexit, he said that EU heads of state and government agreed at a summit in December that sufficient progress had been made in talks on Britain’s exit from the EU and approved the second stage of the talks, to focus on a transition period and a framework for future relations.
He recalled his attendance at a summit on fair jobs and growth, held in Gothenburg in November 2017, when the European Parliament, the Council and the EC declared the European Pillar of Social Rights with the aim of strengthening EU social law and making it possible for citizens to exercise their rights more efficiently based on 20 key principles.
As for the issue of young people, Plenković said that youth unemployment in Croatia dropped from almost 48% in 2013 to 26% in 2017.
He also noted that 2018 had been declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage and that this should be used to raise awareness of the social and economic importance of cultural heritage. Croatia will mark the year with international conferences “Underwater Cultural Heritage in Europe Today” and “The Best in Heritage – Dubrovnik”.
Social Democratic Party MP Joško Klisović asked the prime minister how his government was positioning the country in the EU in light of a special statement that was sent to the common EU position on human rights, the Three Seas Initiative and Jerusalem.
Last February, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions on EU priorities at UN human rights forums. Croatia, along with Hungary and Poland, has sent its views on the document and its statement has been assessed as being more conservative than those made by Poland and Hungary, Klisović said.
Plenković responded by saying that “apart from some internal comments in Croatia, no one saw this as a problem, nor did that statement change in any way the EU’s position during discussions on many states and during thematic discussions at the Human Rights Council.”
As for the Three Seas Initiative, Plenković said that it has certain historical connotations, but that it is good because it aims to strengthen cooperation with countries that are close to Croatia linguistically and culturally and that it can help Croatia to better position itself politically and economically on the map of Europe, especially once the LNG terminal has been completed.
On the subject of Jerusalem, the prime minister said that the fact that Croatia abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly in December on the resolution that condemned the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did not change Croatia’s position on the two-state solution.
“The European Union did not have a consistent and coherent position in New York. We are not changing our two-state policy in any way. We thought that the initiative in the General Assembly was not necessary,” he said. The resolution was backed by 128 of 193 UN member states.
Responding to a question from Miro Bulj of the MOST party about Serbia’s EU accession talks and prosecution of war crimes in that country, Plenković said that Croatia had raised the issue of the legitimacy of the Serbian law on universal jurisdiction many times claiming that it violated not only the sovereignty of the neighbouring countries but also that of EU member states. He promised to continue closely monitoring the issue.
Asked by Bridge MP Robert Podolnjak about the position Croatia would take with regard to the so-called nuclear option against Poland, Plenković said that right now this was only a risk. In December, the European Commission recommended to the Council of the EU to trigger the Article 7 procedure against Poland for violating the rule of law. The procedure may result in suspension of voting rights. Plenković said that the issue was not yet on the agenda of either the Council of the EU or the European Council and that no one in the EU had clearly articulated their position on the matter.
Poland has been given three months to remove the problems identified by the Commission, and Croatia expects a solution to be found to avoid triggering Article 7, after which it would be very difficult to reverse the situation, the Prime Minister said.