Zagreb - EU membership has made Croatia a safer and stronger country, PM Andrej Plenković said in the Parliament on Tuesday while submitting a report on meetings of the European Council in 2020.
Noting that there remained a feeling of sadness because the coronavirus pandemic had thwarted plans regarding Croatia's EU presidency in the first half of 2020, Plenković said: "We entered 2020 full of hope and optimism, ready to present Croatia as a country that is proud to take the helm of the most successful political project in history, the European Union, but history had a different plan for us."
The world was hit by a pandemic and Croatia was also hit by two earthquakes, the first in Zagreb on 22 March and the other in Sisak-Moslavina County at the end of last year, he said.
"Those challenges put us to the test but they also drew from us what is the best: the courage and self-sacrifice of medical workers, the solidarity and care for others of numerous volunteers and the great empathy and responsibility of our citizens," Plenković said, adding that "unity in crises has possibly been the most stable characteristic of our people throughout history."
He thanked the many countries and Croatian expatriate communities for support and concrete help after the earthquakes.
He recalled that in March Zagreb was given €683 million from the EU Solidarity Fund and that support was also expected for Sisak-Moslavina County.
MFF and recovery plan
Plenković said the most important achievement last year was the agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) under which Croatia has at its disposal €12.7 billion, having to pay €661 million annually into the EU budget over the next seven years.
The Next Generation EU instrument totals €750 billion and Croatia is entitled to €9.6 billion from that mechanism, which does not require national co-financing, he said.
"We have not only obtained significant funding but have made it possible for absorption to proceed at a pace that is appropriate to the capacity of our institutions and agencies," he added.
Vaccination against COVID-19
A recovery plan envisaging the removal of the consequences of the pandemic is being drafted in cooperation with the European Commission, the PM recalled.
Croatia started vaccinating its population after Christmas and the PM said he hoped the process would be stepped up.
He called on everyone to "get vaccinated and think of others", noting that sufficient quantities of the vaccine had been secured.
Croatia's EU presidency
The coronavirus pandemic affected Croatia's EU presidency, which was held mostly online.
During the presidency, the Zagreb Summit took place online, sending an important message on enlargement; accession talks were launched with Albania and North Macedonia, and a new methodology was introduced for accession talks, Plenković said.
He expects that Portugal will maintain the same course after it took over the presidency from Germany on January 1.
Speaking of the agreement on future relations between Great Britain and the EU, reached at the end of 2020, Plenković said he considered it good for all member-states, noting that Croatia was the member-state least affected by Brexit.
Opposition MPs: Croatia's EU presidency was a missed opportunity
In a parliamentary debate on PM Andrej Plenković's meetings of the European Council in 2020 on Tuesday, opposition MPs said that despite the pandemic, Croatia's EU presidency was a missed opportunity to impose topics important to the country.
Social Democrat MP Domagoj Hajduković said that despite the pandemic much more could have been done in absorbing EU money, noting that approved funds were not allocated funds. European money is also our money and it should not be used for projects that do not bring multiple benefits, he said, adding that Croatia should position itself better in the EU.
Anka Mrak Taritaš (Centre, GLAS) said that in the next seven years Croatia would have €24.2 billion available to it and that €683 million had already been allocated to it for earthquake relief.
Unfortunately, not a single tender has been published based on which that money could be usefully spent, and the deadline for that is 18 months, she said, adding that Croatia was still the worst in the EU in terms of fund absorption and programmes.
Croatia needs faster and more purposeful development, she said.
Stephen Nikola Bartulica of the Homeland Movement called on the government to consider easing coronavirus restrictions, noting that the government should have more understanding for entrepreneurs and let them work.
We are at the bottom of the EU, structural reforms have not been implemented, we are facing a GDP fall of 10% and a budget deficit of 30%, Bartulica said.
Zvonimir Troskot of the Bridge party said that Plenković's government did not have any plan and that its failure to tackle corruption suited the EU because it encouraged emigration to the EU which helped make up for population losses there.