Brussels, June 5, 2017
To ensure a successful presidency over the Council of the EU, the Croatian Government must establish a wide coalition of stakeholders and set up a framework for continuous dialogue with interest groups, concluded a panel speaking at a Croatia-EU Business Council (CEUBC) event organized in collaboration with Vlahovic Group last week in Brussels.
In January 2020, Croatia will take over the presiding position as the last country in a trio set up of Romania and Finland. Presiding Member States’ experience has shown that it roughly takes two and a half years for a country to prepare for the presidency, seen in Brussels as a rite of passage for younger members who are then qualify for their "EU diploma". Although Croatia is roughly at that mark now, the fact remains that the trio starts in January 2019, which means that it is essential to start setting presidency priorities.
For this reason, the CEUBC, a Brussels based non-profit, organized a panel discussion which brought together representatives of the private sector, as well as EU institutions, to address some of the questions surrounding Croatia’s preparedness for the task ahead.
Ivana Maletic, member of the European Parliament, said that we have to define what is important for Croatia and its agenda for 2020, adding that Croatia should put forward ideas that are salient, but not part of the standard Brussels agenda. Ms Maletic pointed out three key areas that need to be defined – the presidency budget (ballpark costs estimated between €50 and €90 million), how to manage the vast hiring process and training needed to prepare and preside (200 newly trained civil servants), and what to focus on in terms of the cultural aspect of the presidency.
Goran Stefanic, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative believes that discussions with the wider public, as well as the business community, could contribute to better preparation of the presidency. Also, that it should be seen as an opportunity with benefits that span much more than the 6-month period of the presidency itself. "Furthermore, the presidency can also contribute to modernising the civil service and prepare it for the challenging period beyond 2020", he said. Mr Stefanic also drew attention to the fact that Croatia will be among the first member states to preside over the Council following the 2019 European elections, which will be a challenge but an opportunity as well.
Bruno Lopandic, Deputy Director of the Croatian Chamber of the Economy (HGK) in Brussels explained that this presidency is an enormous opportunity for Croatian business in that companies will have the EU spotlight on them. "Croatian businesses are still not communicating sufficiently with their western market. Furthermore, they are not fully aware of the benefits of the single market and the visibility and expansion it provides", said Mr Lopandic, further explaining that HGK is doing its part in terms of "internationalising" Croatia’s economy, which is crucial for a small yet open economy.
Natko Vlahovic, co-founder of the CEUBC, and discussion moderator, believes that the state administration should not only communicate better with different interest groups, but also create permanent working bodies for more closer policy coordination. "Indeed, by opening its communication channels, and being more inclusive towards the business community and its ideas, economic growth opportunities for Croatia such as a new LNG terminal, the Adriatic-Ionian pipeline and full digitalisation of the state administration will become a reality much sooner", said Mr Vlahovic.
The panellists concluded that, by managing the process properly, Croatia can only benefit from its presidency over the Council of the EU, especially when it comes to strengthening its role in Brussels, rejuvenating the state administration and promoting Croatian companies on EU markets. However, to achieve this, a wide net of dialogue platforms needs to be cast so that stakeholders at every level have their say and contribute to the preparatory process.
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