In 2021, the CEDC presidency is held by the Republic of Croatia.
“Fuelling progress towards a more resilient future”
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually all resources available to our governments have been redirected to combating the health crisis and its most pressing consequences. Under these circumstances, it comes as no surprise that the pandemic took its toll on our security and defence cooperation. The urgency of the current public health situation certainly dictates pragmatism, but it would also be a misjudgement to lose sight of the fundamental security and defence considerations that led to the formation of our CEDC community in the first place.
While we are all struggling to ensure vaccines for all, it is clear that the impact of the COVID-19 will continue to dominate our agenda for the foreseeable future. However, from the Republic of Croatia’s standpoint, these challenges only reinforced our resolve to continue working together and to step up our efforts to make our CEDC cooperation more effective and result oriented.
The last year’s CEDC Chairmanship of the Republic of Slovenia made every possible effort to keep the CEDC momentum moving despite this pandemic. Under the Slovenian Chairmanship, significant achievements have been reached, especially in the scope of two working groups: the CEDC COVID-19 Lessons Learned Working Group and Military Mobility Workshop. The Republic of Croatia’s Chairmanship in 2021 is determined to further build upon those foundations and to increase the CEDC wider impact by building stronger ties with our neighbouring partner countries.
The priorities of our Chairmanship are aligned within three mutually interconnected pillars:
Picking the battles we can win: boosting our resilience to disinformation campaigns and fake news
As the global health crisis grew at pace, both state and non-state actors have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to spread disinformation and fake news. Coordinated disinformation efforts, linking the coronavirus pandemic with the already existing misinformation themes, seek to fuel distrust in the ability of our institutions to deliver effective responses, often by directly challenging the credibility of the European Union and its partners. Under these circumstances, tackling misinformation, as a driving force of secondary impacts of the pandemic that can increase the risk of wider regional instability, becomes even more paramount. In the long run, if our states are to become more resilient against disinformation, this requires continuous and sustained efforts, including through regional cooperation.
To reach this objective, the Croatian Presidency will organize two expert workshops under the theme “Combating Fake News and Disinformation Campaigns”, aimed at discussing current state of play in Central and Southeast Europe and generating concrete recommendations on how the CEDC and the Western Balkans countries can pool resources together to mitigate the consequences of this widespread phenomenon.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – forging lasting partnership with the Western Balkans
Previous CEDC Presidencies recognized the necessity of establishing stronger ties with our Western Balkans partners. While the path of each Western Balkans partner country towards EU membership is unique and moves at its own pace, the COVID-19 crisis provides the opportunity for decisive action to boost the enlargement process and achieve the EU wholeness by integrating the remaining aspirant countries from Southeast Europe.
The CEDC – Western Balkans cooperation and coordination has advanced at many different levels, especially when it comes to strategic discussions on countering hybrid threats, disinformation and cyber-attacks. The current health crisis further reinforces the importance of cooperation and partnership. From our standpoint, as the CEDC is not only a discussion group but also an avenue for action, working in close cooperation with our Western Balkans partners on countering disinformation and thus further building regional resilience will represent an important step towards their EU membership.
Brave new world: Moving forward on European security and defence
In the past few years, the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy has made significant progress, now possessing the structures and instruments to reaffirm the EU’s role of a credible security actor. Different initiatives previously undertaken by the EU to enhance defence cooperation started producing visible results, including but not limited to the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the European Defence Fund (EDF), and the Strategic Review of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The ongoing work with the Strategic Compass provides us the unique opportunity to shape the long-term identity and scope of the EU action in security and defence domain. Fostering a shared political understanding of what the EU should be able to do in the field of defence will consequently make the EU even more capable security provider for its citizens and partners around the world.
Moreover, the European Defence Fund represents a major step forward, as the EU will, for the first time, have a specific programme to support industrial cooperation in the field of defence, thus opening a window of opportunities for the Central European defence industries. The Republic of Croatia’s Chairmanship will aim to provide an effective framework for channelled discussions among the CEDC countries on these and other related topics in order to align our national positions and advocate our interests at the EU fora. With the Republic of Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU around the corner, we are certain that our common interests and priorities will be translated into concrete projects with tangible results.