The European Commission has sent a report to Croatia with objections regarding the implementation of tenders under the Rural Development Programme, and the government in Zagreb has a deadline of two months to respond to the Commission, Agriculture Minister Davor Romic said on Tuesday in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union ministerial meeting.
The Croatian minister explained that two weeks after he took office in late January, a mission of the European Commission arrived in Croatia to check some of the reported irregularities regarding the IPARD programme.
"After that, that is ten days ago, we were provided with the report in writing which includes steps which we should take," Romic told reporters in Brussels, explaining that Croatia is advised to improve procedures and include the relevant agencies to review certain cases (of applicants reportedly engaged in fraudulent practices).
Those cases are also checked by the AFCOS (Anti-Fraud Coordination Service) network, a directorate set up to protect the European Union's financial interests in Croatia, and this office is closely cooperating with OLAF (the EC Anti-Fraud Office).
According to Romic, 21 projects in Croatia are being examined by AFCOS and the projects include different companies that are actually owned by the same persons.
The EC's main objections refer to efforts by applicants to artificially meet the terms and conditions of tenders so as to be granted EU funds.
Citing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, Romic said he could not say anything more about those cases until the AFCOS considered all the cases.
"Now it is up to the AFCOS network to respond to the Commission's inquires, and we will also take into account possible oversights, if there have been any," the minister said.
The Croatian Rural Development Programme (RDP) was formally adopted by the European Commission on 26 May 2015, outlining Croatia's priorities for using EUR 2.3 billion of public money that is available for the 2014-2020 period (EUR 2 billion from the EU budget and EUR 0.3 billion of national funding).
The minister reassured the press that the Croatian government and the agriculture ministry under his helm would precisely carry out the procedures and penalise possible cases of abuse.
He noted that the objections from Brussels referred to some sub-measures from the RDP and not to the entire programme.
The EC conducts several reviews and checks in each EU member-state annually so as to see how the funds under the Common Agricultural Policy are used.