When Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 it expected EU funds to help revive its anemic economy. However, it took six years for the country to reach the average EU rate of funding absorption, it was said in Brussels on Tuesday as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities.
In 2014, the EU made €10.7 billion available to Croatia as part of the cohesion policy, whereby Brussels has been trying for three decades to reduce the differences between the EU's poor and rich regions. To that amount was added €1.9 billion from the national budget as development projects are co-financed.
Of said €12.6 billion, the payment of €9.8 billion has been contracted, or 78%, similarly to Slovakia and Germany.
By the end of 2020, Croatia must find development projects for the rest of the allocation, or it will remain unavailable. The current absorption average in the EU is 77%.
Over the past year, progress has been made in Croatia as absorption at this time last year was 52%.
In the eyes of the European Commission, which approves the money, Croatia's assessment has gone from unofficially unsatisfactory to satisfactory. Many previously begun projects are in the final stage which, as in other countries, has pushed absorption to the highest percentage to date.
All projects contracted by the end of 2020 may be realised by the end of 2023.
In Croatia, the bulk of the money has gone into agriculture and transport. The biggest contracted project is the €526 million Peljesac Bridge which will connect Croatia's south with the rest of the country.
After the City of Zagreb, Dubrovnik-Neretva County is the place where most of the EU money goes given that it is the home of another big infrastructure project, the €200.3 million renovation of Dubrovnik airport. In the City of Zagreb and Dubrovnik-Neretva County, the standard of living is above the national average.
In recent years, Croatia had a shortage of staff for EU funds-related jobs, notably because of the daily emigration of experienced and educated people. Another aggravating circumstance was inexperience in this area as Croatia was the last country to join the EU.
Although Croatia has contracted the payment of nearly 4/5 of the €12.6 billion at its disposal, end users have received only 25%. One of the reasons for the late payments lies in public procurement because appeals slow down projects. In this segment, only Spain ranks worse, with 24% of funds having been paid to end users. The EU average is 33%.