Germany and Croatia will work together on preparing to chair the European Council next year and that chairmanship is a great chance for Croatia, it was said following a meeting on Monday in Berlin between Germany's and Croatia's foreign ministers, Heiko Maas and Gordan Grlic-Radman respectively.
The most important task that awaits us is chairing the European Council next year. That is a great challenge but also a great chance for Croatia, Maas said after the meeting.
Croatia's chairmanship will be in the first six months and Germany will preside in the following six months next year.
Maas underlined that joint preparations to chair the European Council require a high level of coordination between Germany and Croatia, not just bilaterally but on the European plane too.
Croatia's chairmanship in the first half of next year comes at an exceptionally important period. Early November the new European Commission will begin working. Then there is Brexit which will certainly be a topic next year too. And there is an agreement on the European Union's long-term financial framework, Maas said, announcing that in order to assist with operational preparations and coordination of chairmanship, a German foreign ministry official would be deployed in Zagreb in the first half of next year.
Grlic Radman underlined that Croatia's priorities during its chairmanship of the European Council will be sustainable development of countries and regions, with special focus on demographic revival, infrastructure connectivity and citizens' security, with focus on protecting the European Union's external borders.
The two ministers discussed Croatia's strategic foreign policy objectives, one of the most important being its accession to the Schengen Area, and Croatia enjoys Germany's full support in this aspiration.
Maas reiterated Germany's stance regarding the protection of the EU's external borders and that Berlin advocates that more funds should be allocated for it.
We want to better support countries on the EU's external borders than has been the case until now, he said.
Maas underlined that EU enlargement is one of the challenges during chairmanship of the European Council next year.
That will be a very important issue for Croatia as a sort of bypass to the Western Balkans, he added.
Grlic Radman underscored the importance of EU enlargement to Western Balkan countries.
The Western Balkans is our immediate neighbourhood and we are interested in peace and stability in this region, Grlic Radman said and announced a summit on the Western Balkans that will be held during Croatia's chairmanship of the European Council.
Grlic Radman emphasised that Croatia supports opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in October this year and underlined the need to continue talks on European prospects of other countries in the region as well, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We want equality for all the constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina so that it can be a functioning state with a European prospect, said Grlic Radman.
Maas said the fact that Grlic Radman had until recently been Croatia's Ambassador to Germany is very useful, particularly with regard to developing bilateral relations.
Maas and Grlic Radman also discussed an action plan to develop bilateral relations that was signed in March this year.
We have taken significant steps in a lot of areas in that regard, said Maas.
Grlic Radman said he expected the action plan to additionally strengthen relations between Germany and Croatia as well as provide a broader dimension to the partnership between the two countries within the European Union.
He noted the importance of economic relations and expressed hope that these relations will improve even more.
We particularly underline the automobile, IT, food and wood manufacturing industries as having potential for further cooperation, Grlic Radman said and announced that Germany's Minister of for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Almaier would visit Croatia next month.
Later today Grlic Radman is expected to meet with Norbert Roettgen, the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the German Bundestag, and with the chairman of the Committee on European Union Affairs, Gunther Kirchbaum.