Protection of fundamental European values should be one of the priorities of Croatia's presidency of the European Union, said participants in an international roundtable discussion on the presidency, organised by the GONG and CROSOL NGOs in Zagreb on Tuesday.
We have different histories, languages and currencies, but we share the same values. And we have to strongly defend those values together, because they are under attack both from the outside and the inside, said Timo Pesonen, European Commission’s (EC) Director-General for Communication.
Croatia will take over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on January 1, 2020, and mark the event on January 15.
Brexit has affected the order of countries to chair the Council so Croatia's turn comes sooner than planned, and Croatia will follow after Romania and Finland, who will be presiding the EU in 2019.
Duje Prkut of the CROSOL NGO said that decision-making processes in the EU were endangered by a major rise in the popularity of right-wing populist parties.
"Elections for the European Parliament will undoubtedly result in an increase in the number of deputies who benefit politically from showing that the EU is a failed project," he said.
"European values are not empty talk… It is very important that Croatia recognises its presidency (of the EU) as a school leaving exam – a situation for which it should properly prepare diplomatically, administratively and technically, and establish the best possible cooperation with a broad circle of stakeholders," said Marina Skrabalo of CROSOL.
CROSOL representatives said that one of the main questions for future EU chairs as well as the rest of the EU should be the issue of the status of the Western Balkans in crisis management strategies.
"Will the Balkans turn into a buffer zone to stop waves of migrants travelling to the EU? Has the EU really and forever given up on solidarity, as one of its fundamental values, with refugees, with people who are victims of war?" Skrabalo said.
Croatian officials have said that the priorities of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU will be economic growth and employment, stronger internal and external security, energy and transport connectivity, and EU enlargement.
Emphasis will be put on youth unemployment in the country, Croatia's accession to the Schengen passport-free travel area, stronger transport corridors, and the EU's expansion to the Western Balkans.