Croatia's Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Tomislav Tolusic on Friday held talks with European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Cretu, on how to help Croatia improve the absorption of EU funds.
This was Tousic's first visit to Brussels since he took office in late January and his first official meeting with Commissioner Cretu, who is responsible for the European Regional Development Fund in which seven billion euros is made available to Croatia in the 2014-2020 period.
Tolusic said that as much as 1.290 billion euros had been put at Croatia's disposal in the 2007-2013 period, but that Zagreb had managed to withdraw only 738 million or 53%. The remaining funds must be used by the end of this year, or they will not be be offered to Croatia.
"We practically must withdraw some 500 million euros in the next nine months., which is a great challenge, but I hope that we will make it. Whether there will be any refunds to the EU budget will be discussed when time comes for that, but I hope that those will be small amounts." the Croatian minister said.
Commissioner Cretu expressed hope that losses would be minimal, explaining that it is now clear that some projects will have to be transferred for applications for the 2014-2020 period.
She pledged assistance but noted that the European Commission "cannot do the job that should be done by the Croatian administration".
Cretu recalled that the Commission had set up a task force for assistance to countries, including Croatia, that have problems in withdrawing European funds.
She also noted that Croatia's administration is burdened by rules and procedures, while "there is not enough personnel to do this job".
The European Commissioner said that Minister Tolusic had informed her that contracts for revamping the Dugo Selo-Krizevci section of the railway from Zagreb to the Hungarian border would be signed in a few weeks' time. This project is to be co-financed by European Union funds, but Cretu warned about delays.
Asked by reporters about the situation regarding the future Peljesac Bridge, Cretu said that a feasibility study should be prepared by this summer and that the Commission would then analyse the document.
Cretu recalled that EU funds could constitute 75% of funds for public investments in Croatia.