Croatia wants a strong Europe in a world of challenges

by Quentin Vanleeuw
Croatia wants a strong Europe in a world of challenges

One month after taking over the Council Presidency, it is an opportune moment to take a look at Croatia's priorities and assess how European stakeholders have reacted. Here we start by presenting an overview of their programmes, with a strong focus on health-related issues. The second part analyses the unique situation in which Croatia will act, what has already been done, and some MEPs reaction to the programmes.

On 1 January 2020, Croatia took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). As part of the ninth “Trio of Presidencies”, together with Romania and Finland, Croatia has adopted the motto “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”.

The Croatian Presidency comes at a time of evolutions, changes and challenges in the European Union: a new Commission, a new Parliament, Brexit, growing populism, international tensions, uneven economic development, climate change, migration, dissemination of disinformation… Confronted with a number of challenges, Croatia presented a presidency program structured around four main priority pillars, namely:

  1. A Europe that develops, which aims to create a balance and sustained development of the Union and its Member State.
  2. A Europe that connects, which promote networked economy and used potentials.
  3. A Europe that protects, which provide a safer union for its citizens.
  4. An influential Europe, which aims to become (or remain) a global leader and strong partner to neighbours.

One month after the start of its presidency, Croatia has also set its priorities concerning general matters. For instance, they are intensively working to reach a balanced and sustainable agreement on the new multiannual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period. As the youngest members of the EU, they will work toward the reaffirmation of European perspective on candidates and potential candidates for EU membership. A Conference on the Future of Europe will also be organised with the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. Starting in 2020, the conference, that will last two years, will involve a cross-section of society to give citizens the chance to contribute in shaping the future of the EU. Unsurprisingly, the Presidency will also have to manage the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU based on the Withdrawal Agreement, ensuring legal certainty to citizens and businesses.

Health priorities: organ donation and fight against malignant diseases

Croatia sought to highlight their know-how and skills in their health priorities. Organ donation and transplantation will be a central pillar of their policy for the next six months. Indeed, the Croatian government have some expertise on it since they launched, in their own country, a sensitization campaign to incentivise people to commit to donating. Today, Croatia counts 3 times more donors than the EU average.

The fight against malignant diseases and cancers is going to be another key area of focus for the future Croatian Health Minister, following the dismissal of Milan Kujundžić. The Presidency will encourage discussions on lifelong care to tackle the issue of the ageing population of Europe and chronic non-communicable diseases while encouraging a more efficient utilisation of health care solution.

Working towards a regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) is a key aspect of the Presidency’s health priorities. However, it has to be noted that when meeting with the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on 20 January 2020, the former Croatian Minister of Health did not appear convincing to Members of European Parliament of his country’s desire to reach such a goal.

Five months to go: what to expect?

Evidently, the implementation of the Croatian program began on day one of this new decade and MEPs shared their opinions with Croatian representatives during the ENVI Committee meeting. They expressed their positive feeling about the upcoming farm to fork strategy, including food labelling and the nutriscore and shared their concerns about access and pricing of medicines, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and Europe’s ageing population. The Croatian Health minister ensured them that in many areas, prevention is a key component to resolving these problems.

To conclude, it seems like Croatia has developed a serious and ambitious program but faces a unique European situation. For the first time, a country is leaving, and uncertainty remains about the future relations between the Union and the United Kingdom. It should however be noted that the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković, stated on 29 January that “the first major goal had been accomplished with the completion of the procedure for United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.” Other factors such as the growth of populism, and climate change also threaten the proper implementation of the program. However, with Brexit looming, Croatia will soon count one more MEP, who joins the S&D group, who will ensure that the voice of their country grows slightly stronger in Europe.

Another point that must be taken into account is the Western Balkans situation. Indeed, only Montenegro and Serbia have started negotiating with the EU in order to become member of the Union. The rest of Balkan countries, namely Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia, have not started the membership discussions but are willing to do so. The European Council has so far refused to do so.

Lastly, earlier this month, elections were held in Croatia. The former Prime Minister Zoran Milanović (socialist democrat) has been elected as President. As a result, Croatia enters a coexistence period with the centre-right government currently in power. Even if power is hold by the Croatian government, the President is considered as an important moral authority and Constitution watchdog. Since he is elected through universal suffrage, it will possibly give him legitimacy to be a visible figure during Croatia’s EU presidency.

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