Reviving European Prospect for SE Europe Will Be Croatian Presidency's Big Legacy

By 17 February 2020

ZAGREB, February 17, 2020 - Raising the topic of enlargement to Southeast European countries to the highest level in the EU and changing the atmosphere about it will a big, positive political legacy of the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Sunday.

As premier of the country presiding the Council, he attended an informal working dinner of European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell with the leaders of Croatia's six Southeast European neighbours which are candidates or potential candidates for EU membership.

The meeting was held as part of preparations for a summit of leaders of all EU member states leaders and Western Balkan countries in Zagreb on May 6-7.

Plenković described the meeting as very good and timely. "We positioned the topic of Southeast Europe high on the agenda of EU institutions," he said, adding that Greece, Austria and Italy had announced such preparatory meetings prior to the Zagreb Summit.

"This means that we have mobilised EU member states about this topic to a level that didn't exist. Most important for us before the Zagreb meeting is to resolve the issue of the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, and we will try to have that decision adopted in March."

Plenković said he wanted the Commission to present in Zagreb a strong investment package for Southeast Europe, that summits between the EU and the countries in that region be held at least every two years, and that those countries gradually meet membership criteria and raise their citizens' living standards on the membership journey. "That will be a big, positive legacy of the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU for our six neighbouring countries."

Plenković said that next week, at an EU27 summit, he would talk which the prime ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands, which had reservations in October regarding the opening of negotiations with Albania. France, which had the strongest objections, has changed its position after the Commission put forward a new accession negotiations methodology.

Plenković said that during Croatia's EU presidency he would also try to solve the visa liberalisation issue for Kosovo citizens. "Croatia believes Kosovo has met the criteria for waiving visas. There are several countries which don't share that view but I believe that, in intensive negotiations within the Council and in a generally better atmosphere, we could find a solution to an important issue for Kosovo citizens."

Prior to the meeting, von der Leyen said it was in the EU's geostrategic interest to have the closest relations possible with Western Balkan countries, confirming that the Commission was preparing an investment package for the region for the Zagreb Summit.

Michel said he expected honest, open and constructive talks on partnership with the leaders of the six Western Balkan countries.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.