The failure of the European Union to start membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania was a strategic mistake that has resulted in the loss of credibility, outgoing European People's Party (EPP) president Joseph Daul said in Zagreb on Wednesday, stressing that the move opened the door to other big world powers.
We demonstrated a lack of vision and resolve and went back on our promise, thus losing credibility in the region and leaving the door open to Russia, China, Turkey and Gulf countries, Daul said at the start of a plenary session of the EPP, taking place in Zagreb on Wednesday and Thursday.
France, the Netherlands and Denmark last month blocked the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania in the belief that the EU should first reform its enlargement methodology.
After it received assurances that its move would help unblock its Euro-Atlantic integration process, Macedonia changed its name to North Macedonia at the start of this year after Greece had been obstructing its accession to NATO and the EU for years over its name.
Daul, who is to be succeeded in elections for the EPP president today by Donald Tusk, the outgoing President of the European Council, said also that there was a need for a strong, united Europe which could guarantee its position in the international context as no country could face challenges on its own amidst imperialist policies of Russia and China, which he described as giants with a clear vision which did not need to justify their decisions to their citizens.
We have to defend our citizens, companies and our values, he said.
Speaking of the more significant challenges, he mentioned climate change, to be discussed at the EPP congress, condemning the so-called green populism and pointing to the need to find the middle path.
We are the only antidote to populists... policies should be adjusted to challenges, starting with climate change - we cannot learn anything from the Greens in that regard. Between the green populists and insane ideas that deny climate change we have to find the middle path to fight climate change as well as secure jobs and take care of the economy, Daul told around 2,000 delegates who gathered for the conference of the biggest European political group in Zagreb's Arena sports hall.
Europeans worry about the planet's future as well as about their own future, salaries and pensions, he said.
The EPP should also seriously deal with the topic of defence because if we do not have a strong defence line, we will not be able to defend our values, Daul said, stressing also the topic of Brexit, which will happen after Croatia takes over the presidency of the EU, on 31 January 2020.
When the UK government decides what it wants, we will be able to build relations with it again, he said.
Daul praises Croatian officials, believes in Grabar-Kitarovic's victory
Praising Croatia's achievements during the term of the HDZ-led governments and PM Andrej Plenkovic and President Kolinda Grabar-Kiatrovic's experience and reputation, Daul expressed confidence that Grabar-Kitarovic would win the presidential election to be held at the end of this year and the beginning of next.
It is a fact that the HDZ has become a synonym for success and Croatia should be the leader in the region, said the outgoing EPP chief.
PM Plenkovic thanked Daul for his six-year chairmanship of the EPP, saying that his "legacy and what he is leaving behind in the EPP is exceptional."
"You have built strong and firm foundations and we will continue to build on them an even stronger European party," said Plenkovic, who addressed the conference in Croatian, English and French.
Plenkovic and Daul also thanked Jean-Claude Juncker for everything he had done as the President of the European Commission which Ursula von der Leyen takes over on December 1.
Daul also presented an EPP award to incumbent President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Schaeuble, saying that the award was bestowed on significant individuals who promoted the EPP's values.