I had the privilege of being in Croatia last week to make it clear that the European Commission is there to work hand in hand with the country to make the most out of EU cohesion policy. There is no doubt about how important this policy is for Croatia: in the 2014-2020 programming period, the country has access to nearly 11 billion euros of cohesion policy funding.
The immense sum of money allocated to Croatia is an opportunity, but at the same time a challenge. I say opportunity because the EU budget represents nearly 80% of national public investment in Croatia, the highest rate in the European Union. But I also say challenge because the country’s administration needs to continue making a huge effort to reach the highest level of absorption possible, while always investing in projects which create an added value – for the country and for the EU as a whole. It is also up to the country to direct the funds where they can generate the most visible change. This is for example the case with the region of Slavonia, for which the EU funds are a chance to catch up with the rest of the country.
I was honoured to address the 6th session of the Council for Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem. I welcomed that a tailor-made set of actions is implemented in order to help the region converge with the other regions across the Union, which is the best demonstration of solidarity. During my meeting with Minister Žalac, as well as during the dialogue I had with the citizens, I emphasized that Croatia should do their best to use every euro from the EU funds in the best way possible. The funding should be directed to regions and projects that matter the most, especially as we are during a period when resources are limited and number of the EU priorities are increasing. There is a common understanding of the fact that the European Union is facing unprecedented challenges that are putting great pressure on the future EU budget. Brexit will leave a sizeable gap and other challenges – such as migration, security, climate change – require support as well.
I was glad to see a lot of interest for our proposal for Cohesion Policy post-2020 and determination with regard to the debate on the future budget of the EU. I had a possibility to exchange views on the cohesion policy proposal for the post-2020 programming period with Prime Minister Plenkovič. I took note of the Prime Minister’s views and I appreciate that Croatia has been supportive during cohesion policy debates. This needs to continue in the months to come, as the debate on the 7 years budget will sharpen. I believe that my visit to Croatia contributed to setting the pace on the road to Sibiu more facile. Having legislation in place soon is essential if we want to have programmes started from day one of 2021 – 2027. It goes without saying how important this is, when we have priorities such as research and innovation, digital economy or young people, priorities that when implemented can bring a positive change in the life of so many Europeans.