"The role of municipalities for the survival of rural areas in Croatia" was the theme of a conference held on April 1-2, gathering municipal officials from around Croatia to discuss reforms in public administration and ways to improve living standards in rural areas.

Public Administration Minister Dubravka Jurlina Alibegovic and Agriculture Minister Davor Romic attended the conference organised by Croatian MEP Marijana Petir (HSS/EPP) in cooperation with the German Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Neda Prpic-Gamirsek association.

Minister Jurlina Alibegovic spoke of reforms in public administration that the government was planing.

"Reducing fragmentation, improving working processes, rationalising branches of central government bodies, functional and fiscal decentralisation and achieving optimal territorial organisation will facilitate efficiency in public administration and direct it toward citizens and entrepreneurs. We will include all stakeholders in that process - municipal, city, and county officials, the unions, academic community and others," she said.

A statement for the press from MEP Petir's office in Zagreb notes that municipal officials had the opportunity to advise Minister Romic of the problems they were faced with at the local government level and of solutions that would improve living standards in rural areas.

"The return of young people and to keep them in rural areas, improve the quality of life in rural areas...in my capacity as minister I will offer all available human resources in the ministry so that we can make the maximum use of all funds for rural development programmes foreseen for local government units," Minister Romic said.

Petir recalled that Croatia has 428 municipalities that form the basis of its organisational structure and most often cover rural areas. Most municipalities are faced with the same problems - how to sustain the population in rural areas, particularly young people, how to secure jobs and reasonable incomes and how to attract investments to build social and utility infrastructure, she said.

Petir underscored that municipalities have an important role in the survival of rural areas - they offer support to people who produce food, they preserve the environment and biological diversity as well as traditional values.

Klaus Fiesinger, Hanns Seidel's regional director for Southeast Europe, said that local government has to have special protection because it is at this level that citizens can feel whether they live in a democratic country.

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