Zagreb - Migration, Europe's future and digital development were the main topics on the EU's agenda in 2017, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in parliament on Wednesday while presenting a report on meetings of the European Council in 2017, with emphasis on Croatia.
Along with work on creating, implementing and following EU policies, Croatia in 2017 also presented a national strategy for the introduction of the euro, it continued meeting conditions for accession to the Schengen area of passport-free travel and continued advocating and supporting EU enlargement to Southeast Europe, the report notes.
In 2017 the EU was presided over by Malta and Estonia, with Malta's presidency in the first half of the year having been marked by the issue of migration and political discussions about the future of the EU on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, while Estonia's presidency put emphasis on digital development, said Plenković.
The EU continues the discussion on the reform of the asylum policy in 2018 and an agreement on the matter should be reached by June. However, the Višegrad Group countries are hampering the process by continuing to oppose binding quotas for the redistribution of refugees.
In that context, Plenković said that Croatia had undertaken to take in 1,583 refugees from Greece, Italy and Turkey. So far, 60 people have been taken over from Greece, 21 from Italy and 48 from Turkey, he said, recalling that in December Croatia paid EUR 200,000 into the Fund for Africa.
As for discussions on the future of Europe, Plenković said that he would present Croatia's positions on the matter at a plenary session of the European Parliament in early February.
He underlined that by 2019 Croatia was expected to meet all technical requirements for accession to the Schengen area.
Croatia will also continue meeting conditions for the introduction of the euro and hopes to be ready to enter the EU Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), a kind of waiting room for the euro, by 2020, he said, adding that the country was expected to introduce the euro by the end of the term of the next government.
As for further EU enlargement, he said that the European Commission would present a new enlargement strategy in February, and that the strategy was expected to include a message of encouragement to Southeast European countries to persist in their efforts to join the EU.
The PM also recalled that in the first half of 2020 Croatia would be chairing the EU as part of a troika to preside over the EU over an 18-month period, the other two countries being Romania and Finland.
The focus of Croatia's EU presidency will be on encouraging further EU enlargement, economic growth and employment, and better transport and energy connections in Europe, he said.
Noting that EU enlargement would be one of the priorities of Bulgaria's EU presidency in the first half of this year, Plenković said that a summit of EU member countries and Western Balkan countries would be held in Sofia in May.
He underlined that last year Croatia joined closer European cooperation in the field of defence (PESCO) together with 24 other EU members.
That cooperation for the time being envisages 17 specific projects and Croatia is taking part in five of them, focusing on assistance in natural disasters, military deployability, military mobility, logistics and cyber security, he said.
With regard to Brexit, he said that EU heads of state and government agreed at a summit in December that sufficient progress had been made in talks on Britain's exit from the EU and approved the second stage of the talks, to focus on a transition period and a framework for future relations.
He recalled his attendance at a summit on fair jobs and growth, held in Gothenburg in November 2017, when the European Parliament, the Council and the EC declared the European Pillar of Social Rights with the aim of strengthening EU social law and making it possible for citizens to exercise their rights more efficiently based on 20 key principles.
As for the issue of young people, Plenković said that youth unemployment in Croatia dropped from almost 48% in 2013 to 26% in 2017.
He also noted that 2018 had been declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage and that this should be used to raise awareness of the social and economic importance of cultural heritage. Croatia will mark the year with international conferences "Underwater Cultural Heritage in Europe Today" and "The Best in Heritage - Dubrovnik". (Hina)