Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar met in Zagreb on Thursday and talked about Brexit, which could happen during Croatia's EU presidency in the first half of 2020, and preparations for negotiations on future UK-EU relations.
We are confident that Croatia will do an excellent job as EU chair, Varadkar said.
Croatia is taking over the presidency at the beginning of 2020, in the year when Brexit could really happen, he added. Britons are going to the polls on December 12 and if incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson wins, Varadkar expects the deal to be ratified soon.
Whoever becomes prime minister and forms the government, we will gladly sit down, listen and work with them, he said, adding that regardless of the election result, he could tell the Irish that there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Brexit doesn't end with the United Kingdom's exit from the EU but enters the next stage, negotiations on trade, security and political partnership with the UK, Varadkar said.
We expect the withdrawal agreement to be ratified soon and to launch negotiations on future relations, said Plenkovic. He recalled that if Brexit happened, the EU's Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier would become negotiator for future EU-UK relations.
The UK has been given another Brexit delay until January 31.
Plenkovic said that reaching an agreement on future relations by the end of 2020 was very ambitious but not impossible because "where there is a will, there is a way."
The two prime ministers also talked about the EU's 2021-27 budget, enlargement and EU membership prospects for Southeast European countries, which will also be the focus of Croatia's presidency.
The European budget should be appropriate and support long term successful policies, such as the cohesion policy as well as the common agricultural policy, which is very important for our rural communities, said Varadkar.