Over the next six months the European Union will need the determination, the unity and the energy that Croatians are famous for, said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission at the European Parliament plenary debate on the programme of the Croatian Presidency, on 14 January. Last week, the College of Commissioners attended the inauguration of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in Zagreb.
Croatia has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union as of 1 January 2020, the country's first time to be in this role since joining the European Union in 2013. The priorities of the Croatian Presidency - a Europe that develops; a Europe that connects; a Europe that protects; and an influential Europe - coincide with the priorities of the von der Leyen Commission, which will allow the two institutions to work closely together.
In her speech before the European Parliament, President von der Leyen reflected on how far and how fast Croatia has grown since its independence, and said we would need that sort of unity and determination to find common solutions to the challenges ahead of us.
“The Presidency's motto says: We need a strong Europe in a world of challenges. And indeed, it is true that the challenges around us are becoming louder, and more dangerous and more intensive by the day”, she said reminding at the same time of the diplomatic strength of the European Union and its ability to focus on dialogue and de-escalation.
“Now is also the time for Europe to be more assertive on the global stage. To strengthen our position as the trading power of the world. To deepen our relationship with NATO and take more responsibility on ourselves. To build an alliance with Africa that can stand the test of time and help boost both of our economies”, von der Leyen outlined.
She continued to underline that the next six months would also be crucial for the EU's relations with the Western Balkans. “If we want the Western Balkans summit in Zagreb to be a success, we have to do our homework now. That is a reason why we will put forward our enlargement methodology in a few weeks”, she announced.
“The most important part is to give our friends in the Western Balkans a perspective for beginning the accession talks with North Macedonia, with Albania. They have done their homework we have asked them to do, so it is time to give them a real perspective to move on now.“
Furthermore, negotiations on the future EU budget will be an important task during the Croatian Presidency. President von der Leyen stressed the Union needed a balanced, fair and, most of all, a modern budget.
The Commission President also underlined the importance of the Croatian Presidency in view of the Brexit, and the next six months being decisive for the future EU-UK relations. “There is a difference of being a Member State or not - and there are trade-offs between regulatory divergences on the one side, and access to the Single Market. This room has now to be explored in the coming negotiations. In June, we will take stock of the progress. And this will be an essential milestone falling under the Croatian Presidency”, von der Leyen said during the College visit to Zagreb on 10 January.