ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia will try to help launch blocked European Union membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia while the country holds the EU presidency for the next six months, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Thursday.
‘’We will do our best to overcome problems and unblock the process that was held back at the summit in October 2019,'' Plenkovic said during a news conference the day after Croatia took up its first term in the rotating presidency.
France and the Netherlands halted the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania last year, causing widespread disappointment and concern in the Western Balkans as Russia and China vie for influence in the volatile region.
Croatia, which became an EU member in 2013, was the last country to join the bloc. It borders three other Western Balkans nations that have applied for membership - Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The Croatian government has listed EU enlargement as one of the priorities for its EU presidency, which will also include presiding over Brexit at the end of the month and the launch of post-Brexit talks.
‘’The context of our presidency is very specific and demanding,'' Plenkovic said.
If all goes as planned and the UK leaves the EU on Jan. 31, Croatia's task will be to coordinate efforts within the EU to outline a framework proposal for future agreements with Britain, Plenkovic explained.
‘''That is our job,'' he said. ‘’And we have already started working on it. Together with (chief EU Brexit negotiator) Michel Barnier.”
A country with a population of 4.2 million, Croatia is best known for its stunning Adriatic Sea coast, dotted with hundreds of islands and coastal towns such as the walled city of Dubrovnik.
Croatia's economy still lags behind more developed EU nations, partly because the country came out of a devastating war in 1991-95 that followed its split from the former Yugoslavia.
Croatia hopes to soon join Europe's border-free Schengen Area and to adopt the euro as the country's main currency.