Before the next European elections in five years' time the European Union needs clear rules agreed by all political groups to avoid a repetition of this year's situation with the European People's Party (EPP) lead candidate Manfred Weber whose bid for the post of Commission President was "unfairly blocked", Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic warned on Thursday.
"The fact that we had to fight a tough battle for the leadership of the European Commission, despite being relative winners of the elections, should be a major concern for us. Nevertheless, after complex negotiations within the European Council and with other political parties, where Krisjanis and I represented the EPP – and after our candidate Manfred Weber was unfairly blocked – I am proud that we ensured the election of Ursula von der Leyen," Plenkovic said in his address at the end of the two-day EPP electoral congress in Zagreb.
"For the next European elections we need clear rules that will be accepted by all political groups in advance. Because after the experience of last May, we can ask ourselves: why would anyone volunteer to be the Spitzenkandidat again? For us, it was crucial that the EPP gets the president of the Commission and we succeeded!" he added.
The new European Commission is due to take office on 1 December.
Plenkovic once again expressed regret that Albania and North Macedonia had not been given the green light to open membership negotiations.
"For the Western Balkan countries, nothing impacts more their political, economic and social transformation than a clear and merit-based EU perspective. Our neighbours in South-East Europe are also a priority for the Croatian presidency and I look forward to hosting the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb on 6 and 7 May 2020," he said.
Plenkovic said that Europe today was undergoing unprecedented transformation that required a common response because "our global relevance and position are in flux."
"Looking only at the economic data, we see the economic weight of Europe has proportionally dropped since the early 1990s" and there are other factors that are also profoundly changing Europe. These factors, such as migration pressures, negative demographic trends, climate change, growing populism and Brexit, "all require common European answers," he said.
"We in the EPP know that the answer is certainly in more unity and cooperation at the European level. In that context, Europe urgently needs to adapt to keep our influence on the global stage and ensure economic and social prosperity," the Croatian prime minister said.
Plenkovic also mentioned demographic challenges, saying that the existing problems of brain drain and depopulation of rural and remote areas in half of the member states require a European solution.
"This is precisely why the HDZ tabled a resolution on demographic challenges that was adopted at the Congress. I am also glad that upon Croatian initiative the European Council acknowledged, for the first time, the importance of demographic revitalisation and included them in the EU Strategic Agenda. I am proud that the Commission’s future Vice-President, my friend Dubravka Suica, will be in charge of this portfolio", he said.
Plenkovic also highlighted the need to ensure full protection of the EU's external borders, fight against illegal migration and human trafficking, while also respecting the principles of solidarity and humanity to the people in need.
"For us, it is essential to prevent the illegal migration on the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes. We firmly believe that Europe must be protected at the Greek and Bulgarian border and that a long-term arrangement with Turkey has to be found," the Croatian PM said.