I was in Croatia this week, 26-27 April 2017, visiting Zagreb, a city where the continental spirit blends with the Mediterranean one. Cohesion Policy has such an ardent supporter in Croatia, a country that only joined the European family four years ago.
Our union is facing unprecedented challenges at the moment and a permanent political dialogue with national parliaments and governments will help us all decide the Europe we want for tomorrow. This is why the first stage of my visit consisted of meeting officials from the Croatian Parliament and Government to discuss the future cohesion policy as well as the future of Europe.
I first met the Speaker of the Sabor, the Croatian National Parliament, Mr. Bozo Petrov, the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Gordan Jandrokovic, and various other Presidents and Members of Parliament Committees. We had a good debate on the White Paper on the Future of Europe. What I asked from them is that in order to make Cohesion Policy more visible, we need all the help we can use. We need active support and commitment in this regard. Later on that same day, I met the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Mrs. Zalac; we discussed more in-depth matters such as how EU funds could be invested in a quicker way in Croatia. The 2013-2020 Cohesion Policy allocation represents 74% of Croatian public investment, an outstanding and maybe one-off opportunity for the country. Mobilisation of all ministries involved is thus one of the highest priorities at the moment, in order to prove that EU funbds are extensively used by Member States, and in an efficient way. I am happy to state that both Mr. Plenkovic and Mrs Zalac shared those views and showed their commitment to mobilise ministers for speeding-up project preparation and selection.
The highlight of my visit however was a signature ceremony of nine newly selected EU-funded projects in the presence of Mr. Andrej Plenkovic, the Prime Minister and Ms Gabrijela Zalac, Minister for Regional Development and EU Funds. What struck me the most about this ceremony was the fact that the projects ranged from education and health to culture and heritage, covering thus an impressive breadth of fields and improving straightaway the lives of all the Croatian citizens.
Moving on to the last stage of my visit, and perhaps the most personal, I enjoyed a public exchange on the future of Europe and implicitly the future of Cohesion Policy. Shaping a strong, renewed European project, requires first and foremost a large public debate. Hence I ended my day on a friendly note, by having a Citizen Dialogue, alongside Mrs Zalac, an exchange that I have genuinely enjoyed. Truth be told, I always enjoy these exchanges best, as they give me the chance to see how much people, regardless of their background, care about Europe's values and to see how Cohesion Policy improves the daily lives of each and every one of them. Such debates are held across Europe and are essential as they give everybody a chance to ask questions, criticise or make suggestions. Preparing the future already now is paramount. And we all need to work together on this.