The first year of the Croatian Member of the European Parliament Tonino Picula’s third term has been marked primarily by activities in the domain of foreign policy, be it global one or the one in the nearest vicinity of Croatia and EU, Western Balkans, Jutarnji list and Euractiv state.
In continuation, we are bringing the whole overview of Picula’s activities in the past year in the EP, directly from his pen.
Immediately after the constitution of the new, ninth convocation of the EP, my colleagues from the parliamentary group of Socialists and Democrats have named me Foreign policy coordinator in the EP Foreign Policy Committee. My primary task was to lead preparatory and work meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, where, before any voting in the Committee it is essential to go through all foreign affairs reports about certain countries and themes. I am responsible for voting lists, informing representatives about attitudes and determining the positions of parliamentary group in case of problematic questions, and I am involved in the creation of foreign policy agenda.
Soon after that, S&D appointed me as co-rapporteur for the IPA III pre-accession package that should be available for the Western Balkan’s countries during the budget period 2021-2027. During negotiations about financial strength of the package, which is expected to be around 14,6 billion euros, I encourage the candidate countries to participate in EU programs that would deliver to their citizens tangible benefits of the membership, in order to stimulate the increase in support for those countries in EU accession.
Furthermore, through EP Committee on Foreign Policy and Committee on Regional Development, I am working persistently on preservation of a strong cohesion policy, which I believe will remain one of the crucial factors when it comes to maintaining stability and progress of underprivileged country members of EU in the period of recovery from coronavirus pandemic. In November last year, on behalf of the European parliament I was appointed rapporteur for recommendations on the enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkans, and shortly thereafter to chair the Western Balkans Working Group on the EP's Foreign Affairs Committee. I was working on the report with recommendations, together with my office colleagues, those from my own and also from other parliamentary grouping, for about half a year. This is a result of a series of negotiations and harmonization of different approaches to enlargement policy.
As a proponent of the enlargement policy as the EU's most successful foreign policy tool in expansion of its influence and stabilization of its neighbourhood, I am pleased that it received a tailwind after some lassitude. This is evidenced by the adoption of the new EC enlargement methodology in February this year, and the final emitting of the green light to open negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia, on which I worked intensively both as S&D coordinator and rapporteur for recommendations, but it is also attested by the last week's opening of the last chapter about accession negotiations with Montenegro. As rapporteur for that country in the EP since last October, I am particularly pleased to have been able to contribute to this by consulting with Montenegrin officials.
I am especially proud that the recommendations on enlargement, following the Zagreb summit and the adoption of Zagreb Declaration in the EP, were adopted with the support of as many as 532 Members, and they are now binding on the European Commission, High Representative of for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the European Council on further EU enlargement negotiations.
By virtue of serious understanding of the importance of relations with the USA, European parliament has for the first time decided to introduce a function of a rapporteur for relations with the USA and to entrust that task to me for the rest of this term. United States are one of the most important foreign policy partners with the EU, and for the past seventy years we have been creating today’s multipolar world, in which one of the most important characteristics of our relation has been cooperation based on common understanding of democracy and the rule of law, which has been taken into question by president Trump’s unilateral moves towards the EU. One of the priority tasks to which I plan to dedicate myself is precisely the stabilization of relations with the USA based on previous principles of multipolarity, reign of law and democracy, but also on themes such as equal treatment of all EU citizens in relations with the USA, which includes an equal visa policy and avoiding double taxation, which are themes of great importance for the citizens of the Republic of Croatia.
The work on these, figuratively speaking, regular topics and tasks, has been deeply marked this year by the greatest crisis in the European Union insofar, and globally in the past twelve years, and judging by human, social and macroeconomic consequences, maybe the greatest since the Second World War, that is coronavirus pandemic.
Uncertainty about final conditions related to Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU now it does not seem as dramatic as we expected during the last year. The pandemic has caught EU off guard, which was shown through initial lack of solidarity towards helping Italy which came first under the attack of the illness resulting in enormous loss of lives and a dramatic recession.
As Croatian MEP, before adoption of the SURE program and other aid packages, I reacted promptly and asked for help for our most vulnerable citizens and industry branches. First of all, I asked from the European Commission generous aid packages for precarious workers, and for small and medium-sized enterprises. I have especially warned about risks that are menacing the Croatian economy due to great dependance on tourism and so I asked for a special help for that sector in Croatia and whole EU. Then, through my participation in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development I have asked for measures of help to the fishery and aquaculture sector with a special emphasis on winery, which has suffered from an additional impact caused by an enormous decrease in tourism, for what I received a great deal of support from Croatian winemakers. I am pleased that the European Commission accepted the demands of us members of the EP concerning concrete actions in European economy.
Moreover, in the capacity as a rapporteur for the recommendations on the Western Balkans, I have requested help for the countries in this region that have no financial or material capacities to fight the pandemic. This is particularly important basing on the fact that helping countries in region we are protecting our own citizens because virus does not know boundaries between states. Through financial and material packages the countries in the region received help in the total of 3,3 billion euros.
Due to intentional misrepresentation of European Union's real help to the countries of Western Balkans, I am particularly supporting the fight against misinformation and fake news in the EU and in the Western Balkans, which will be one of the topics on which I plan on working in the European Parliament for the next few years, and I have already started by engaging in the fight against interference of foreign forces in democratic processes in the EU last fall. It was the pandemic of corona virus that showed us that misinformation can be ruinous for human lives and that we, as EU, have to do a lot more in that prevention, through patronage of independent journalism and fact checking.
Naturally, through activities in foreign policy, I have not stopped working on the topic of energy transition, concerning European or Croatian islands. I have been particularly honored by the colleagues in the EP by appointing me as a President of the Intergroup for Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas, which in this mandate counts more members than ever, that is 114. As a founder of the Intergroup I am especially delighted because the importance of islands, seas and oceans has been recognized by many influential colleagues in the EP. However, two other accomplished actions were far more important during this EP convocation. For 2020, I managed to secure an additional four million euros for pilot projects for energy transition in islands and rural areas through a proposal for an action plan which, after a positive evaluation by the Commission through an amendment to the European budget, received a majority in Parliament and confirmation from the Council. Still, I am most proud of the fact that the energy transition of the islands has become a part of the most important project for the future of European Union, that is European Green Deal. Experiences of Croatian and European islands with energy transition through project such as EU Islands Secretariat, in whose founding I participated, are an integral part of plan for accomplishing European environmental neutrality by 2050.
Besides that, next big and important topic was included in the European Green Deal with the help of my support, and that is energy transition.
As a result of my engagement in energy transition, in February this year, I was shortlisted for the MEP Award, better known as the "EU Oscar", in the energy category.
In the end, a short comment on the expectations for the next four years. It is exceptionally thankless to predict the future, what was proved by the crisis we are in at this moment. However, what I can surely say is that the European Union, its country members and our common economy counting more than half a billion people will survive solely if we keep and strengthen solidarity, mutual understanding and appreciation. The first tests for our European solidarity will be negotiations between the European Commission, the Council of Europe and EP regarding the final form and amount of assistance project Next Generation EU, which should be the main tool for restoration from the consequences of coronavirus pandemic, costing around 750 billion euros. I am thinking in particular of setting the so-called "frugal" four to other EU members regarding the share of grants and loans in the assistance package.
Here I especially emphasize the necessity for the Republic of Croatia to plan proper operative plans on handling the funds from Next Generation EU and the European Green Deal in order to use those funds for a more effective transition of our economy and reducing our systemic weaknesses, such as too high dependency on tourism and import of foreign energy sources. Then, there are the negotiations on the final size of the budget for the new seven-year period, which should be completed under the German presidency by the end of this year. It is crucial for the future of the EU that the budget provides adequate funds for the protection of those most vulnerable to the pandemic, through the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund. A repeat of the mistake of the Great Recession of 2008, when the greatest burden of the crisis was borne by the weakest social groups and the poorest members of the EU, could be crucial for the future of the EU.
Finally, in addition to these internal crises, it is extremely important for the EU to find the strength to form a new common foreign policy doctrine on the principle of "smart power". Such a foreign policy doctrine, along with strengthening our own defense capabilities and security, should enable us to ensure EU stability, economic growth and, most importantly, the protection of human and minority rights, the rule of law and democracy.
In short, Picula's work in the first year of this convocation of the European Parliament can best be seen through the duties he has taken on.
a) For recommendations to the EC, the Council and the High Representative on Enlargement in the Western Balkans - Report adopted by 532 votes in favor of the EP
b) For relations with the United States (newly established function of the European Parliament)
c) For cohesion policy
d) For IPA III
e) For Montenegro
2) Coordinator of the parliamentary group of Socialists and Democrats for foreign policy
3) Chairman of the Working Group for the Western Balkans
4) President of the European Parliament's Intergroup on the Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas: In the first year of this mandate, he provided a total of EUR 4 million for energy transition projects in islands and rural areas through a proposal for an action plan which, after a positive evaluation by the Commission through an amendment to the European budget, received a majority in the Parliament and confirmation from the Council
5) Nominated for EU Oscar
6) Member: Committee on Foreign Affairs, Delegation for relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly
7) Alternate member: Committee on Regional Development, Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Subcommittee on Security and Defense, Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee
In addition, he asked the European Commission 16 written questions about their plans and activities related to a number of problematic issues, starting from assistance to Croatian and European workers and companies due to the coronavirus pandemic, through action to fight fake news, and other important topics.