On 29 and 30 January, I had the pleasure to go to Croatia to officially launch the Partnership Agreement, which was signed on 30 October 2014. This Agreement details the strategy and objectives for using European Structural and Investment Funds in the 2014-2020 budgetary period; Croatia is eligible for € 8.6 billion under the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund.
These investments will significantly contribute to promoting Croatia’s ability to achieve key EU and national development priorities. It will, for example, help the country reach its Europe 2020 objectives, in terms of R&D, innovation and energy efficiency. It will also contribute to the fight against unemployment, especially among young people, and against poverty, by dedicating 1 billion euro to social inclusion measures.
Boosting the competitiveness of the country is another clear objective of the Partnership Agreement, especially through the deployment of broadband, direct support to SME's and the modernization of agricultural and fisheries enterprises. Finally, the Partnership Agreement aims to improve the administrative capacity of the country in order to ensure, among others, a transparent and efficient use of EU funds.
These objectives are ambitious, but I am confident that the 2014-2020 period will be a success for Cohesion policy in Croatia. I met with Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and Deputy Prime Minister Branko Grčić, in charge of Regional Development and EU Funds, and I congratulated them on the tremendous efforts that were made in the transition from the managing of pre-accession Funds, before the country officially became an EU Member State, to the preparation of EU Regional policy's programmes.
In mid-January 2015, 51.70% of the Cohesion Fund and 46.53% of the ERDF allocations have been claimed to the Commission. Important progress in the absorption of funds is expected this year, with the implementation of a new set of projects. The project costs can be claimed for reimbursement to the Commission until 31 December 2016; one year more than other Member States.
There are some challenges ahead regarding the tangible delivery of the programmes and projects. Nevertheless I strongly believe that an open and fruitful dialogue between the Commission and the national authorities, the dedication of stakeholders on the ground and the assistance of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban policy, through the special task force on low implementation, will help Croatia make the best use of EU funds!