Extensive programme for Croatia's EU presidency prepared

Photo /Vijesti/2019/12 prosinac/27 prosinca/SjednicaVRH.jpg

The Croatian government has prepared a very detailed and extensive programme of its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020, which will be formally adopted at its session on Friday.

The document with 50-odd pages, which was made available to Hina, contains Croatia's national priorities and has been aligned with the EU's new strategic programme for the period 2019-2024 and the guidelines of the new European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen.

In the next six months Croatia will be chairing the Council of the EU, formerly called the Council of Ministers, which is one of the EU's two legislative bodies, made up of ministers from member-countries' governments.

The Council meets in different configurations, depending on which topic is being discussed, such as the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, the Justice and Home Affairs Council, etc.

Councils are presided over by the competent minister from the presiding country, except for the Foreign Affairs Council, which is chaired by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Even though the European Council, the EU's highest political body, is presided over by President Charles Michel, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic will have a prominent role in three events to take place during Croatia's presidency - an EU-Western Balkan summit meeting, to be held in Zagreb in May, agreement on the next, seven-year EU budget, and the organisation of a conference on the future of Europe.

Croatia will have a big role in organising the Conference on the Future of Europe. Croatia's EU presidency has the duty to prepare the Council's position on the conference, which should be supported by all member-states. European Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica, in charge of democracy and demography, is in charge of the conference on the EC's behalf.

A strong Europe in a world of challenges

"A strong Europe in a world of challenges" is the slogan Croatia has chosen for its presidency. The programme of its EU presidency is based on four themes or pillars - A Europe that develops; A Europe that connects; A Europe that protects; and An influential Europe.

Apart from the four main priorities, the programme of Croatia's presidency also contains priorities for all ten configurations of the Council of the EU.

With regard to the priority "A Europe that develops", Croatia's presidency will advocate 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, reads the programme.

As for the second priority, "A Europe that develops", Croatia will encourage policies directed at promoting the EU's infrastructure connectivity and at bringing its citizens closer, primarily through education, culture and sports.

With regard to the third priority, Croatia's presidency will work to further build the EU as an area of freedom, security and justice based on shared values, democracy and the rule of law, including internal security, better protection of the external borders, achieving the full operability of information systems, strengthening resilience to external threats as well as to hybrid and cyber threats.

Croatia's presidency will advocate the continuation of a consistent, effective and credible enlargement policy, as an investment in the stability, security and further economic development and connectivity of the European continent, reads the part entitled "An influential Europe."

General Affairs Council

- European budget

The General Affairs Council has horizontal powers and is responsible for a number of cross-sector political areas. Among other things, it coordinates preparations for meetings of the European Council, the EU's highest political body that is made up of member-countries' heads of state or government.

The jurisdiction of the Council includes the EU's enlargement policy and accession talks, the adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and the cohesion policy.

Croatia will make effort so that during its presidency an agreement is reached on the Multiannual Financial Framework, that is, the seven-year EU budget, which is one of the most important tasks facing the EU.

Delays in its adoption could have as a consequence delays in the adoption of operational programmes without which countries cannot take money from the European budget.

Croatia's Presidency will help European Council President Charles Michel, who is now the main coordinator for the MFF since the Finnish presidency did not manage to bring closer the member-states' positions on the new budget. This is a common practice - when talks on the MFF enter their last few months, they are taken over by the most neutral office - the European Council President.

- Enlargement

Within the General Affairs Council Croatia will pay special attention to enlargement to countries in its southeast European neighbourhood. That will be the topic of an informal EU-Western Balkan summit meeting, which will be held in Zagreb in May and be the highest political meeting in Croatia during its EU presidency. It will be held 20 years after the first Zagreb summit, the first EU summit meeting held outside the EU in 2000, when dialogue was launched with Southeast European countries to help them integrate with the EU.

The presidency will focus on achieving progress in accession processes and in the implementation of stabilisation and association agreements. Albania and North Macedonia are candidates and the presidency will advocate launching talks with those two countries as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina's possible advancing to the status of candidate country, reads the programme.

The document further reads that Croatia's EU presidency will encourage the fulfillment of the necessary criteria for the further progress of Montenegro and Serbia in their accession talks.

Kosovo is a potential candidate and the presidency will see to it that relations with Kosovo are further developed, says the document.

It also notes the importance, in the enlargement process, of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, contribution to regional cooperation and development of good neighbourly relations, including efforts to overcome the legacy of the past, true reconciliation and the settlement of outstanding issues.

The enlargement policy is under a big question mark due to resistance in several member-countries, notably France and the Netherlands. In October France vetoed the launching of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, which was described as a historic mistake by several actors.

- Brexit and cohesion policy

The presidency's activities in the General Affairs Council will also be directed at ensuring an orderly exit of Great Britain from the EU and the opening of talks on future relations.

Croatia's EU presidency also faces the task of agreeing a legislative set for the cohesion policy.

Attention will also be paid to strengthening the EU's fundamental values and principles and its resilience to internal and external challenges.

The presidency will continue working on determining the Council's position on the content, scope, composition and functioning of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The event should include the EU's three main institutions (the Council, the Commission and the Parliament), member-countries, citizens and civil society. EC Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Suica is in charge of the conference on behalf of the EU.

In the next two years, the conference should identify the reforms to be implemented to make the EU stronger and more efficient, with emphasis on citizens' expectations.

General Affairs Council

Croatia's presidency in this Council intends to promote European values and interests and peace and security, and strengthen multilateralism. It will also advocate a closer European security and defence industry.

With regard to trade, the presidency will work to preserve and strengthen the multilateral trade system and continue negotiations with the World Trade Organisation, work on its overhaul and actively participate in preparations for and work of the WTO's 12th ministerial conference, to be held in June 2020.

During Croatia's EU presidency, a summit meeting of EU and Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) will be held in Brussels in June. The meeting will discuss priorities and goals for the period after 2020 with regard to policy towards eastern neighbours.

Economic Affairs Council

Croatia's presidency will attach special importance in this Council to the promotion of initiatives that encourage reform processes and convergence among member-countries.

The presidency will focus, among other things, on further deepening the banking union. It will place emphasis on processes that lead to the greater resilience and stability of the EU's banking system, including the continuation of current debates on the establishment of the European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS).

It will also work to additionally strengthen and integrate the member-states' capital markets.

Due to negative demographic trends, which are present in most member-countries, including Croatia, the EU presidency will work on promoting activities and measures designed to alleviate the negative fiscal effects of demographic trends.

Justice and Home Affairs Council 

The presidency will work on a legislative framework for electronic evidence, creation of preconditions for the start of the work of the Office of European Public Prosecutor, and on a legislative package for evidence presentation and service of documents.

An emphasis will be put on the implementation of sustainable and efficient migrations policy and the re-institution of normal functioning of the Schengen passport-free area. The presidency will take care of strengthening the Union's resilience to terrorist and hybrid threats.

Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Croatia will direct attention to defining measures for addressing demographic challenges and implementing policies aimed at strengthening access to the labour market, for equal opportunities and for gender equality.

The presidency will launch discussions on adjusting labour conditions to new challenges and needs on the labour market and on the preservation and creation of quality jobs.

Competitiveness Council

Emphasis is placed on further deepening the single market and developing a long-term sustainable industrial policy strategy in line with the demands of the digital era.

Croatia will support comprehensive activities aimed at boosting the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Tourism will be highlighted, considering its importance for Croatia. The European Union is the top tourist destination in the world and tourist trade accounts for 10% of European GDP.

Tourism impacts the preservation of cultural heritage, environmental protection, the labour market and infrastructure, and all those challenges are common to EU member-states, which requires a more systematic approach at the European level, according to the document.

Croatia advocates a policy of responsible and viable tourist development with emphasis on encouraging the diversity of tourist trade and helping the development of tourism in under-developed regions.

Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council

The presidency will work on the continuation of development of a single European transport space and on the development of sustainable maritime affairs as well as on digitisation and innovations in all branches of the transport sector.

Some of the priorities are the development of high-quality and safe data infrastructure and creation of conditions for the full functioning and safety and security of 5G networks.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

One of the priorities of Croatia's presidency is to reach in a timely manner agreement on a new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which should positively impact the development of sustainable agriculture and the quality of life in rural areas.

Emphasis will be put on family-run farms and businesses and young agricultural producers as well as on viable management of the environment and on strengthening the concept of bio-economies and smart villages.

Talks should be intensified on the European fisheries and fishing stock.

The importance of forest management, notably in the context of climate change, is also highlighted.

Environment Council

Croatia's presidency will launch a comprehensive discussion on the main initiatives from the European Green Deal, which was recently outlined.

Discussions will be held on transition to efficient, circular and low-carbon economy for the purpose of the sustainable exploitation of resources and reaching the target of climate neutrality by 2050.

Croatia's presidency will advocate stronger resilience to climate change and preservation of biodiversity.

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council

The presidency also plans to dedicate attention to the development of know-how, skills and competences necessary for the future and will try to make sure that mobility and "brain circulation" are conducted in a more even manner.

Cultural diversity contributes to a sustainable economic and social development across Europe and it will be one of the main topics of the programme for Rijeka as one of the two European capitals of culture in 2020.

Croatia will organise a conference focusing on teachers as promoters of new skills for the jobs of the future.

Considering sports, the Croatian presidency will focus on the permanent education of coaches and sports managers and other experts.

Government to allocate 3% more for decentralised functions of local and regional government units

Next year Croatian local and regional government units will receive a total of HRK 2.412 billion, or three percent more than this year, to ensure minimum financial standards of decentralised functions relating to primary and secondary education, welfare, health care and the fire service, the government decided at its meeting on Friday.

Most of this amount - HRK 927.7 million - relates to public needs for primary education, while HRK 460.2 million will go towards secondary schools and students' dormitories.

The government also decided to allocate HRK 20 million to state-founded hospitals to meet their financial obligations towards medical suppliers. The money was ensured by reallocating funds within the Healthy Ministry's budget. The largest amount, of HRK 5.6 million, will be allocated to the Zagreb Clinical Hospital Centre (KBC), while HRK 2.93 million will go to the Split KBC, Zagreb's Sisters of Mercy KBC will receive HRK 2.9 million and the Rijeka KBC HRK 2.2 million.

The government gave its consent to the Health Ministry to assume obligations at the expense of the state budget for 2021 and 2022 to extend, rebuild and equip the day hospitals and day surgery units at the Sisters of Mercy KBC. The project costs a total of HRK 45.71 million, of which HRK 31.14 million will be allocated in 2021 and HRK 14.56 million in 2022.  

The government also adopted a plan for legislative activities in 2020, under which the government plans to put forward 125 bills, of which 61 concern alignment of national legislation with that of the European Union.

Government approves guarantee to ARZ motorway operator for €70m loan

The Croatian government on Friday approved a state guarantee for a €70 million loan to the operator of the Rijeka-Zagreb motorway ARZ.

The consent was given for the loan from the Croatian postal bank HPB and the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) to finance the company's business plan for 2019 and part of the business plan for 2020.

The loan is repayable over 10 years, with a grace period of 2 years, in 32 monthly instalments, the first of which falls due on 31 March 2022 and the last on 31 December 2029. The interest rate is 1.37 percent.

In 2019, ARZ plans to invest a total of HRK 4.3 million and spend HRK 135.2 million on works and emergency maintenance services. Investment in 2020 is projected at HRK 8.5 million.

The government also decided to set aside HRK 25 million in the budget for a nationwide car insurance policy against damage resulting from cars hitting wildlife.

Text: Hina