Croatia’s inaugural Council of the European Union presidency started in January 2020. The presidency had an ambitious agenda – with 1,400 announced meetings in Zagreb and Brussels, around 10 high-level ministerial meetings, 30 high-level conferences and 12 informal meetings it represented a unique opportunity for engagement. But those plans had to be transformed once the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe, in the third month of the Presidency. Under these unprecedented circumstances, Croatia managed to swiftly transform the Council meetings into a video format and ensure the regular functioning of the institution itself.
Policy topics that were meant to be discussed during the six month period (such as energy, environment, digital economy, etc.) largely remained on the agenda, but all the events and side-events had to be either cancelled or transformed to digital format. Challenging as it was, Croatia managed to conduct a rather successful presidency, and even though some might say that the virtual Western Balkans Summit was its crown jewel, the fact of the matter is that EU2020HR did so much more:
- Immediately after the outbreak of the crisis, the Croatian Presidency activated the Integrated Political Crisis Response Mechanism (IPCR mechanism), which enables close operational cooperation between the Member States and European institutions and agencies. The Croatian Presidency has shown flexibility, resilience and efficiency and has found ways to ensure the continuation of the Council’s work in extreme circumstances. Videoconferences opened the possibility for informal discussion of ministers on the effects of the crisis and measures to respond to the crisis, and later preparations for recovery in all segments of social and economic life.
- Due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, formal meetings of the EU Council at ministerial level have been cancelled as of mid-March, and all EU institutions and bodies have gone into crisis mode. The Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU remained the only body to continue to meet physically in Brussels throughout the crisis.
- Leading the work of the Council, the Croatian Presidency has enabled the rapid harmonization and adoption of two significant packages of economic recovery and assistance measures to the Member States proposed by the EC in response to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These acts were adopted within only 20 days of the proposal, which is a precedent in the speed of implementation of the legislative procedure.
- In successful cooperation with the European External Action Service, the EU2020HR has carried out a complex repatriation process, returning more than 650,000 EU citizens to their home countries.
- The Croatian Presidency successfully brought back the issue of enlargement in the focus of the EU’s agenda. The Western Balkans Summit was held via video conference and this meeting sent very strong political support to the countries of the Western Balkans on their path to the European Union.
- After several months of intensive negotiations with member states, the Croatian presidency made an extraordinary effort at the COREPER meeting on June 24 to agree on the position of the Interinstitutional Negotiations Council on the Joint Statement, which should launch the Conference on the Future of Europe by the end of this year.
- The Brexit negotiation process began in March and four rounds of negotiations were held during Croatia’s presidency of the Council. At the video conference of the Ministers for European Affairs on 16 June, a detailed exchange of views between the Member States and the EC was held, and the Council conclusions were adopted in writing and an intensive resumption of negotiations on an unchanged mandate was agreed.
EuroNavigator had the opportunity to help several companies and associations in the tech, environment, mobility, innovation, AI and oil&gas sectors to navigate through Croatia’s presidency. By offering strategic advice, policy analysis, and organizing events under the patronage of the EU2020HR as well as securing high-level speakers, we managed to provide success stories for our clients even in these times of uncertainty.