Dear Prime Minister Plenković
What an honour to be here in Croatia, seating with you in this special cabinet meeting.
We celebrate today the adoption of a new Partnership Agreement between Croatia and the European Commission. This Agreement paves the way for the investment of almost 9 billion euros from Cohesion Policy, in Croatia. This represents around 2200 euros of European investment per person.
In these difficult times of crisis upon crisis, it is more important than ever to build on the solid foundation of future-proof investments.
This Partnership Agreement is more than just money. It represents the future that you want to create, the future that we want to create together, in line with our shared goals and values as Europeans.
I pay tribute to all the partners who worked together to create such a high quality document. You, Mr. Prime Minister, Minister Nataša Tramišak and her team, and the many of you around this table that over the last two years debated and discussed internally and with the European Commission how the new Funds will be more effective in improving the lives of the Croatian people and the competitiveness of the Croatian firms.
I thank you for your hard work and especially for your ambition. I want also to thank my teams at the Directorate General for Regional Policy for their unwavering dedication.
This Agreement represents 3 bold ambitions.
First, it represents our joint priority, Croatia and the European Commission, working together to create a smarter and more competitive Croatia.
Croatia is stunningly beautiful, combining an impressive natural landscape with a rich history and historical heritage.
Tourism has exploded as a result, and it will always be a key sector for the future of the country.
But as the events of the last 3 years have proved, here in Croatia, as across all of Europe, no country can rely on one single sector alone. We must diversify. And we must be ready for a more digital future.
That is why I am proud of the EU financing that allowed investment in digital schooling in Croatia, helping teachers, parents and pupils in preparing for the future, even during lockdown.
You have now set yourselves an even greater ambition for the 2021-2027 period: to double the share of GDP dedicated to R&D, from 1.25% to 2.5%.
Europe will invest 1.7 billion euros in this smarter and more competitive Croatia, focusing on research, in digitalising the economy and in developing the digital capacities and competitiveness of Croatian SMEs.
Our second ambition, our second joint investment priority, is a greener Croatia.
Here again, I salute your goals. 2.5 billion euros of European investment will support the green transition towards a net zero economy.
And let us remember that renewable energy, produced here in Europe, removes our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, giving us energy security. This is an ambition that was made clear when we proposed the Green Deal, in December 2019, and with the adoption of the EU climate law, in 2020, but this has become even more urgent with the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and Russia’s use of energy as an instrument of war.
In this context, I strongly welcome your objective to increase the share of renewables from 53% of electricity production to 60% by 2030.
Nearly 1 billion euros from EU Cohesion Policy will support investments in different modes of sustainable transport, including improvements to the national rail infrastructure.
And 244 million euros will be invested in the “blue economy”: from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to marine biodiversity. This has the double benefit of protecting the environment and promoting the economy of coastal regions.
Our third joint ambition, our third investment priority, is a fairer Croatia. The employment rate in Croatia, that is, the percentage of adults in the labour market, is 5 percentage points lower than the EU average, and there are significant skills mismatches, meaning labour shortages in some areas, unemployment for others. We must address this.
So 2.5 billion euros will be invested in social measures, including social care, active labour market measures and mapping and forecasting skills. We will be investing in Croatians, to help them gain the skills that will improve their job – and life – prospects. And we will be investing in young Croatians, from early childhood onwards, so they will have more chances of a fulfilled life in adulthood.
A fairer Croatia also means a more territorially balanced Croatia. The impressive convergence that the country has recently been making with the EU has been uneven throughout its regions. As you know, I will be traveling later today to Eastern Croatia to highlight the need of using the opportunities offered by EU funding to address internal disparities and promote a multipolar development. I am encouraged that this is an objective we share with you, the Croatian authorities.
In conclusion, this is our ambition and the focus of our joint efforts. Together, we will build a smarter, more modern Croatian economy. A greener Croatia, and a fairer Croatia, for young people and for all Croatians.
Let us now work each and every day to turn our ambitions, into reality. The circumstances are challenging, yes. But through the pandemic, the two consecutive earthquakes that struck Croatia and the ongoing energy crisis we have shown that, by standing together, we, Europeans, can overcome the worst adversities.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to live up to our common ambitions. Between the reinforced Cohesion Policy and the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the exceptional support given under the European Union Solidarity Fund, in the coming years we have exceptional levels of European investment.
An opportunity to set sail for the digital, green and fairer Croatia we all wish for.
So now is the time for action. Let us turn these programmes into reality. Let us mobilise all the partners. Let us get the project pipeline up and running. And let us work together, Croatia and the European Commission, to make a difference to the lives of every Croatian, and every European, so that no one, no region will be left behind.
This is our partnership, this is our agreement.