ZAGREB, CROATIA - Croatia's first-ever presidency in the European Union will come at come at a "critical period" for the 28-nation bloc, outgoing EU leader Donald Tusk said Tuesday.
The EU's newest member could end up in charge of launching the bloc's post-Brexit negotiations with Britain, the European Council president said after talks with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, takes over the bloc's six-month rotating chairmanship at the beginning of January while Britain's departure from the bloc is now set for Jan. 31.
"Your task is not easy," said Tusk. "It will be a critical period for the EU and we will be relying on your steady leadership."
Tusk expressed confidence in Croatia's preparation for the job, adding that Croatia also needs to focus on the EU's enlargement agenda and the volatile Western Balkans.
EU aspirations in the Western Balkans have been dealt a blow after France and the Netherlands blocked the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
"I deeply believe that you (Croatia) will do everything in your power to restore EU unity and enlargement while demonstrating positive EU engagement in the region," Tusk said.
Tusk was in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, for a meeting of the European People's Party, the main center-right bloc in the European Parliament. The Polish politician is expected to be elected the leader of the alliance during the two-day gathering.
"I am leaving the EU in good hands," he said.