Thursday, 7 October 2021

Sánchez Wants Spanish Companies to Build Infrastructure in Croatia

ZAGREB, 7 Oct 2021 - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez used his visit to Zagreb on Wednesday to open the door to Spanish companies which want jobs in Croatia to modernize railways and other infrastructure co-financed with EU money.

"European funds represent a big opportunity for Spanish companies, world leaders in sectors such as transport, renewables, and food, to share their experience with Croatian companies," he said after meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, and President Zoran Milanović.

In February, the Spanish company COMSA landed a €35.7 million contract to build waterworks in Metković, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in that southern Croatian town to date. COMSA is also modernizing a railway from Vinkovci to Vukovar in east Croatia.

Brussels is pushing for the construction of a 7,000-kilometre railway from Spain via France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary to the Ukrainian border. Known as the Mediterranean Corridor, this route could be completed in 2030. It would reduce transport costs and the pollution created by road transport.

Croatia joined the project in 2016 and sees it as an opportunity to modernize its railway from Rijeka via Zagreb to Budapest, with a branch line from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Croatia has requested the extension of its section across the Lika region towards the Dalmatia region and the southernmost seaport of Ploče.

As part of its cohesion policy to reduce differences between poor and rich parts of the EU, the European Commission made €10.7 billion available to Croatia in the 2014-20 period, but Croatia contracted projects worth more than that, so they should enter the 2021-27 EU budget. In the months ahead, Croatia will propose other projects for financing.

Spain's COMSA and other foreign companies will apply to tenders in Croatia, 85% of which will be co-financed by the EU. Since joining the EU in 1986, Spain has modernized its railways and roads with EU money.

The Spanish government, therefore, supports Croatia's accession to the Schengen and euro areas.

"Croatia and Spain share many common interests in the EU," Sánchez said at a press conference in Zagreb.

In 2019, Spain sold €840 million worth of goods and services to Croatia, while importing €266 million worth of goods, according to Croatian Chamber of Commerce data. After that record-high, the coronavirus halted trade.

Although Spanish companies are behind German and Italian ones as to their presence in Croatia, they are trying to expand operations. The Ale-Hop gift shop chain last week opened a store in Zadar, which is its first shop outside Spain and Portugal.

Spain supports EU enlargement to Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo to expand its market.

"Since coming to the helm of the government, I have always pushed for a bigger presence of my country in this region, confident that we share many things," said the Socialist Sánchez, in power since summer 2018.

At an EU-Western Balkans summit in Slovenia on Wednesday, the EU did not say when those Western Balkan countries might join the bloc.

Croatia, which joined in 2013, invited Sánchez to visit last month, but he canceled due to a reshuffle in his coalition government.

In recent years, Spain has intensified its officials' visits to Croatia. In 2019, the then foreign minister Josep Borrell visited Zagreb, which was the first visit by a Spanish minister in 14 years.

Every year 10% more Spanish tourists had been visiting Croatia. In 2019, there were 315,000 arrivals, but after the pandemic outbreak in spring 2020, arrivals dropped to 27,000, according to Croatian Tourist Board figures for last year.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Plenković, Sánchez Announce Stronger Croatian-Spanish Cooperation

ZAGREB, 6 Oct 2021 - Croatia and Spain cooperate well in many areas, with €1 billion in trade, but the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted that process, so Prime Ministers Andrej Plenković and Pedro Sánchez said on Wednesday they would work on intensifying cooperation.

"Croatian-Spanish trade is about €1 billion. We believe that's good. However, we've had certain oscillations during the COVID crisis. Today we talked about how to advance cooperation, how to make our private sectors cooperate as well as possible, notably by utilizing funds from the NextGenerationEU instrument," Plenković told the press after meeting with his Spanish counterpart.

Sánchez, the first Spanish prime minister visiting Croatia, said the two countries were trying to advance their relations, the development of which was stopped by the pandemic last year, stressing that EU funds could help them revive their economies.

"A few weeks ago, Croatia joined the cooperation within MED9, nine European Union members states on the Mediterranean, and this forum will serve as a dialogue for Mediterranean countries to advance cooperation in many areas, notably all those key global issues we are faced with, from the fight against illegal migration to climate change, which are especially important for all Mediterranean countries, as well as in many other security and development topics that are important both for north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean," said Plenković.

He also said that Croatia and Spain could exchange experiences in tourism, "this important industry", and see how, "after this brilliant season that we had", to prepare for the next one as well as possible.

"Croatia is very active in the World Tourism Organization, which is based in Madrid. We are looking forward to cooperation in that area," Plenković said.

He noted that cooperation in defense and security as well as many operations, notably in the Mediterranean, was also important for the two countries, adding that next year Spain will host a NATO summit.

The two prime ministers also mentioned cooperation on the DONES (DEMO-Oriented Neutron Source) project which, they said, is very important for the future of energy and for reducing greenhouse gases.

"That's a Croatian-Spanish partnership in nuclear fusion in which the Ruđer Bošković Institute is participating. It's an important, strategic project financed with European funds so that we can have inexhaustible and clean energy sources," said Plenković.

Sánchez too welcomed the experimental program for preserving the environment.

Following a summit with Western Balkan countries in Slovenia over the past two days, the two prime ministers also talked about the situation in Southeast Europe and EU enlargement.

Plenković said Sanchez was exceptionally familiar with the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other countries in the region.

"We took this opportunity to talk about how to make it possible for enlargement to go on, how to have, first of all, a stable BiH. For us it's especially important to ensure, through changes to the electoral law, the legitimate representation of Croats as the smallest constituent people in BiH's highest bodies," Plenković said.

According to the Spanish premier, the Western Balkans "should be given the place to which it belongs". He again called for EU enlargement.

Sánchez also invited Plenković to visit Madrid.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.