Hot Issues for Croatia's Presidency of the EU in 2020

26. November 2018.

This analysis presents 8 key topics relevant for the upcoming Croatian Presidency of the EU in 2020. It is intended for all European citizens, and civil and political actors who critically fight against the fascization of Europe.

Six months prior to the European elections, the amplification of anti-immigrant sentiment all the way to sheer verbal and physical acts of hatred is taking hold across the EU’s streets, social network and political campaigns. This is evidenced by the recent political turmoil over a non-binding UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the so-called “Marrakech Agreement”. Originally it was rejected only by the Trump administration, whose position is now joined by several EU member states - Hungary, Poland, Austria, Czechia and Bulgaria. Just like in the case of so-called “Istanbul convention”, the scenario of overthrowing multilateral human rights initiatives through social media hysteria fuelled by fake news and hate speech, followed by sudden opt-outs, is emerging as a new and powerful tactic of illiberal political leaders and their allies from the radical right across the EU, whose intention is to shatter and reshape shared European values. At the same time, it seems mainstream political parties lack the capacity to address the ordinary people’s growing sense of socio-economic and cultural insecurity, political neglect, and alienation from the EU’s decision-making processes, experienced by millions of European citizens who as it seems will either refuse to vote or support anti-establishment political parties in the May elections for the European parliament.

In the stormy and insecure times we live in, it is more important than ever to find strength to step out of the prevailing sense of depression and despair, and to look at specific opportunities for action on part of European citizens who are deeply concerned about this acute crisis of the European values, and are ready to protect and renew the core idea of the EU as a community of equal, free and safe people committed to lasting peace. Namely, each crisis, as it shakes and shatters the status quo, also brings about a rare possibility for substantial, constructive change.

One such clear opportunity is the upcoming European presidency, shared between Romania, Finland and Croatia, taking place over the next 18 months beginning with January 1, 2019, critical for the (de)normalisation of illiberal, authoritarian, nationalist, protectionist and fear-driven EU. During that period, as the new political landscape will be shaped after the elections, the Council of the EU will play a pivotal role in protecting or dissolving the European values. Its presiding members, through a trio, can leave a historic mark in this respect, depending on whether and how they will address the fundamental problem of value-based discords among member states which are preventing the EU to undertake institutional reforms and bold political decisions about EU’s long-term future, both of which are at a stand-by due to the perpetual crisis thinking and ideological fragmentation. The Council should play a crucial in drawing a clear line between those who uphold and promote shared European values and those actively working to undermine them, promising to bring about a loose, interest based association of culturally and politically homogenous societies in which critical voices are silenced and the rule of law is corrupted to serve the mighty.

This policy paper is meant to serve as a “policy assistant” to all European active citizens who feel that it is time to act now and challenge the future EU presidency to live up to its historic responsibility. Hopefully, it will also be useful to all civic and political activists preparing for the European elections who understand that the critical deliberative struggle against fascization of Europe is already ongoing. The paper provides a background overview of the key policy issues highly relevant for the upcoming presidency trio of the EU in the period from January 2019 until the end of June 2020, made up of Romania, Finland and Croatia. It is primarily addressing the civil society stakeholders, including activists, trade-unionists, business representatives, journalists, and academics, in the three countries making up the Trio, as well as their respective European peer networks. The paper’s intention is to enrich a discussion on common advocacy action in different policy areas, hopefully contributing to a more effective impact of the European civil society as a whole on the next EU presidency, taking place at a time when the renewal of citizens’ trust in the EU’s democratic profile, its cohesion and ability to make value-based decisions is more needed than ever.

Having in mind the EU currently has no ability to conceive or manage institutional reform processes, civil society organisations should focus their attention on safeguarding the environment conducive for a vibrant engagement and watchdog role of civil society. Shrinking civic space should be examined in the light of rule of law deterioration which takes place primarily in new member states in Eastern Europe. Since shifts of power may take place in the Parliament following the elections, the role of the Council in safeguarding shared European values will be of utmost importance. It will be up to the Council to take full use of Article 7 procedure which promises to remove voting rights of member states which systematically and continuously undermine EU's values, especially the rule of law. Activists across the board should support other rule of law conditionalities currently being developed in the EU, primarily the one related to the EU budget. It has been proposed member states which do not meet requirement of a sound financial system would be cut off European funds as to protect EU's financial interests. In addition, activists should push for development of a robust rule of law monitoring tool with concrete and precise indicators such as those proposed by the EP’s LIBE Committee and to be enforced by an inter-institutional agreement (EU Pact for Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights).

EU must adjust its policies so they more successfully mitigate negative effects of declining levels of rule of law in member states which primarily takes form of destabilisation of independent oversight institutions, attack on civil liberties and fundamental rights (especially rights of minorities, women, LGBTQ individuals and refugees), attack on university and press freedoms (through acquisitions of media outlets), rampant use of politically incorrect speech, inflammatory speech and hate speech. In light of this, all future rule of law conditionality mechanism should go well above and beyond covering merely the functioning of independent judicial institutions. Shrinking of civic space, attacks on critical voices, and narrowing in on minority rights are all early indicators of authoritarian government tendencies and should be encompassed by any rule of law monitoring instrument to be developed.

EU institutions must focus their immediate attention to public policies which can bring concrete and tangible benefits to European citizens who are currently experiencing a sense of insecurity and exclusion. The European Pillar of Social Rights still seems to function more as a declaratory, rather than an actual goal of EU policies. EU is yet to grasp opportunities stemming from the transition towards a low-carbon economy, which is currently recognized more like an unwilling obligation than a chance for a deep transformation of the European economy, and consequently its geostrategic relations, which are currently shaped by its dependency on fossil fuels imports. Despite a multitude of policy documents related to immigration and asylum, the EU is practically left without a politically viable strategy of managing long-term migration flows. Instead, the EU has practically deprived itself of the chance for a long-term, sustainable strategy of addressing global migration flows, caused by the heavy and complex legacy of colonisation, wars, exploitation of natural resources, and consequent climate disruptions which will characterise the entire 21st century.

The content of the present policy paper was created in a transparent and participative process. This is because GONG and CROSOL (Croatian Platform for International Solidarity) started a public consultation on the “Priorities of the Presidency of the European Union 2019-2020” with the aim to detect crucial topics and issues pertinent to the democratic and sustainable development of the EU jointly and to join forces for increasing the influence of the civil society and active citizens on the presidency and priorities of the Croatian, Romanian and Finnish governments.

To raise public awareness and to check how institutions are preparing for the upcoming presidency, GONG, CROSOL and the Foundation SOLIDARNA organised an international conference in Zagreb on the presidency of the EU and the protection of European values, during which extracts of the present paper were presented.

Both processes – the public consultation and the international conference – contributed to completing the present paper, which was updated with the latest pieces of information in mid-November 2018.

 

GONG is a Centre of Knowledge in the area of Civil Activism and the Building of Democratic Institutions within the framework of Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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