Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Europe Direct Rijeka Information Centre Opens

ZAGREB, 13 July, 2021 - The Europe Direct Rijeka information centre which will provide information about opportunities and advantages available to citizens in European Union member states, was officially opened on Tuesday in the premises of the Porin - Rijeka Development Agency (RRA).

Europe Direct Rijeka will be a direct link between citizens and EU institutions, or rather, an extended arm of the European Commission (EC) and it will provide support through a direct flow of information regarding opportunities and advantages that are available to EU citizens, and that means local residents in Rijeka and Primorje-Gorski Kotar County.

The centre aims at bringing Europe closer to the people in the field through various activities and to motivate the people to get involved in the debate on the future of the EU. The activities will include visits to schools, presentations, panel discussions about the EU and publishing various official publications.

 The centre also plans a partnership with local media outlets, cooperation with other EU networks, raising awareness about sensitive issues for the EU, and the like.

The project was approved by the European Commission - Europe Direct for the period 2021 - 2025.

The centre began operating on 1 May as part of the Europe Direct network in Croatia and the New Generation Europe Direct information centres in the EU, and are managed by the EC.

All of the centre's services will be free of charge for all citizens but it is not intended to interpret or provide legal advice on EU legislation.

The head of the European Commission Representation in Croatia, Ognian Zlatev, said that the Rijeka centre has increased the European network of centres which comprise more than 420 such centres and it will bring EU citizens closer, inform them and enable them to make their own assessments.

He underscored that the network is important so that citizens throughout the EU can experience the EU in their own cities and counties. We want to hear citizens' opinions about the EU. How they see the future and to be better informed of its policies and initiatives, said Zlatev.

Croatia has shown that it can be a leader in certain segments, he said and concluded that the objective is a common one - a clean and more beautiful Croatia and Europe for future generations.

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

Friday, 9 July 2021

REPLACE Project Presented at JOINT SECAP Workshop in Rijeka

July 9, 2021 - The REPLACE Project was presented at the JOINT SECAP workshop in Rijeka on June 23. There is no better way to end a year and a half-long Interreg project for Croatia, which was one more ecosystem-concerned cooperation between Italy and Croatia.

When it comes to energy efficiency in Croatia, there is no doubt anybody cares about it more than the scientific community working and associating with Energy Institute Hrvoje Požar (EIHP).

Not only is the EIHP building on its way to becoming the first nearly zero energy building in the whole of the country, but EIHP's expertise also plays a big role in REPLACE Project from Horizon Europe. As TCN previously covered, the project aims to make Primorje Gorski Kotar County energy-renewable territory, and the ongoing meetings about the project (in collaboration with the University of Rijeka) see slow but steady progress in those respects.

As EIHP reports on its website, June 23 saw REPLACE Project presented in the congress hall of Rijeka's Jadran Hotel as part of the final workshop of the JOINT SECAP project.

„On behalf of EIHP, Antonia Tomas Stanković presented REPLACE in the second half of the event. The goal is to support European energetic, climate, environmental, economic, and social goals by 2030 and 2050 by encouraging the gradual replacement of inefficient and outdated cooling and heating systems with new, energy-efficient systems based on renewable energy sources“, informed EIHP.

JOINT SECAP, part of Interreg Italy-Croatia strategic program (much like the CASCADE Project TCN previously wrote about) aims to improve the climate change monitoring and planning of adaptation measures tackling specific effects in the cooperation area.

„The project idea reflects the necessity to operate at a wider district level and better define strategies and actions for climate change adaptation, especially for those weather and climate changes and hydrogeological risks affecting coastal areas. The first phase is developed to build the common methodology for Joint Actions definition and implementation and to share the basic knowledge about issues concerning climate change adaptation strategies and energy efficiency measures. The second phase starts upon the analysis uploaded in the web platform, acting as a useful tool for the development of scenarios for the Joint Actions to be implemented in the Joint SECAP plans, those last constituting the main project deliverable“, explained JOINT SECAP on its website. The workshop in Rijeka was the conclusion of the project as JOINT SECAP ended on June 30 after it began on January 1, 2012, with a budget of € 2,094,857.

The workshop in Rijeka, writes the EIHP website, was organized by Primorje Gorski Kotar County Office for Regional Development Infrastructure and Project Management and by Kvarner Regional Energetic Agency. Representatives of local authorities of Primorsko-Goranska county that were enrolled in creating an Energetic and Climate Sustainable Development Action Plan. These local authorities include towns such as Opatija and Kastav and the districts of Čavle, Matulji, and Viškovo.

„Joint SECAP analyzed energy spending for the included towns and districts, their risks and vulnerability regarding climate change, yearly emissions of CO2 in sectors of building construction industry, public lighting, and traffic. Concrete measures with the goal of adjusting to the effects of climate change and CO2 emissions down to at least 55% by 2030 were suggested“, stated EIHP.

With measures identified, the race with time begins as these measures should be in place as fast as possible to tackle one of the biggest challenges humanity is facing, and Croatia isn't able to be isolated from the threat.

Learn more about Rijeka on our TC page.

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

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

President Zoran Milanović Receives Head of Esimit Europa Project

ZAGREB, 6 July, 2021 - President Zoran Milanović on Tuesday received Igor Simčić, head of the Esimit Europa project, which has been promoting for 26 years the European idea of unity by connecting sports, diplomacy, business and culture, the President's Office said in a press release.

The project has gained global recognition thanks to the many successes of the Esimit Europa 2 sailing yacht, which took part in competitions under the European flag and with an international European crew, spreading the message about the successes of the united Europe.

Simčić acquainted the President with the previous activities and successes as well as with the plan to develop a new yacht, Esimit Europa 3, to serve as an ambassador of peace with the support of the United Nations.

Milanović joined other European leaders in supporting the Esimit Europa project.

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

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Von der Leyen to Visit Zagreb Thursday after European Commision Okays Croatia's Recovery Plan

ZAGREB, 6 July, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the European Commission's President Ursula Von der Leyen would arrive in Zagreb on Thursday after the European Commission approved Croatia's national recovery and resilience plan.

President von der Leyen has decided to personally deliver the national recovery and resilience plan to each of the 27 member states.

PM Plenković said that the green-light to Croatia's €6.3 billion recovery plan was an important encouragement.

"We are satisfied with the finalisation of the process before we expected," Plenković said on Monday evening.

In early June, Croatia and another four EU member-states -- Slovenia, Poland, Sweden and Romania -- asked the European Commission to extend a deadline for the assessment of their national recovery and resilience plans.

The EC had two months to assess these plans that set out the reforms and public investment projects that each Member State plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

The rules envisage that member-states can request a reasonable extension of time for the assessment of national recovery and resilience plans after the documents are submitted.

The Commission received Croatia's plan on 15 May, and Zagreb "has requested a total of almost €6.4 billion in grants under the RRF", the EC says on its website.

The Croatian plan is structured around five components: green and digital economy, public administration and judiciary, education, science and research, labour market and social protection, healthcare. It also encompasses one initiative on building renovation.

The plan includes measures to improve business environment, education, research and development, energy-efficiency in buildings, zero-emission transport and the development of renewable energy sources.

Projects in the plan cover the entire lifetime of the RRF until 2026. The plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas, the EC added.

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

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Croatia Satisfied With CAP Reform, Says Agriculture Minister

ZAGREB, 29 June, 2021 - Croatia can be satisfied with the agreement on key issues from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package because it takes into account its most important demands, Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković said in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

At a two-day meeting in Luxembourg, EU agriculture and fisheries ministers on Monday confirmed the agreement on the reform of the CAP, reached with the European Parliament last week.

Vučković said Croatia was glad its most important demands had been taken into account, concerning the treatment of areas with natural constraints, animal welfare and certain exemptions and flexibility regarding small farmers.

The new CAP rules, to be in force from 2023 to the end of 2027, oblige member states to respect the social and labour rights of agricultural workers, encourage farmers to apply greener farming practices, envisage incentives for smaller farms and young farmers and advocate making financial support to farms more conditional on their results and performance.

Now that political agreement has been reached on the new CAP, the path is clear for both legislative institutions, the Council and the Parliament, to formally vote the new rules in.

The ministers also reached agreement on a control regulation that refers to fisheries.

Vučković said that monitoring and control in the fisheries sector were very important and that Croatia had made significant progress in recent years, notably regarding the application of innovations and new technologies in control and monitoring.

She commended the Croatian fisheries sector for undergoing a very important and difficult transformation, underlining the need to preserve the country's fishing resources, fishing fleet, small fishermen and their traditional way of life.

Vučković also called at the Luxembourg meeting for the continuation of support to wine makers, beekeepers and fruit and vegetable farmers.

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

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

IMF: Generous EU Funds Offer Croatia Historic Opportunity

ZAGREB, 23 June, 2021 - Despite the considerable setback dealt by the pandemic, Croatia has a rare opportunity in the next five years to restore its economy to health and to ramp up the public investments necessary for appreciably higher growth rates with the help of EU funds, an IMF mission says in a Concluding Statement.

"Following a painful contraction of 8 percent in 2020, the economy looks set for growth between 5 and 6 percent in 2021 driven by a rebound in the services sector and investment - provided the pandemic does not provide further unwelcome surprises," the mission says the statement published on Wednesday after visiting Croatia as part of regular consultations with member states.

"With sufficient luck regarding tourism outcomes, and a successful vaccination drive within the next months, growth could even exceed 6 percent this year. Assuming the pandemic fades by the end of this year, growth could remain high over the next few years, if the country makes full and timely use of the potentially sizable forthcoming inflow of EU funds," according to the statement.

"Since the first quarter, the recovery has picked up noticeably with areas like construction and manufacturing already reaching activity levels higher than in 2019. Overall, the number of registered unemployed persons has fallen by nearly 13 percent since a year ago. However, tourism and directly related sectors are yet to fully recover. This process is likely to take another year or two."

Swift measures by the authorities

"Between the pandemic and two large earthquakes, Croatia has been severely tested, and the country’s resilience has come through. The economic contraction in 2020 - painful as it has been -was not as severe as those experienced by many other economies with a strong tourism component. This is mainly due to the swift measures enacted by the authorities," the IMF staff said.

"Support measures must remain in place until the health of the population and the economy have been fully restored. As conditions improve, support measures need to rotate toward preparing the workforce for the post-pandemic world, and facilitating balance sheet repair of viable businesses. Thereafter, the challenge of once again reducing deficits and the public debt whilst shifting growth into a new high gear must be taken on. The generous funding from the EU represents a historic opportunity, to help meet these challenges successfully - an opportunity that must be fully utilized, in a timely fashion," the IMF mission said.

Not the right time to further cut taxes

Noting the government's support measures, the mission said, "Just as these support measures were essential during the worst of the crisis, they must now be better targeted to lagging sectors of the economy - and they must remain in place till the economy has more fully recovered."

"It is paramount that a vaccination drive be as successful and widespread as possible, that extra healthcare costs are fully met and arrears in the healthcare system are reduced to the maximum possible extent," according to the statement.

"Complementing the use of funds such as the European Social Fund, fiscal resources saved this year due to improving conditions can also be usefully redeployed to train more workers in sectors like greening and digitalization."

"In sum, in the view of IMF staff, the most important fiscal goal in 2021 is to focus on spending available resources wisely to restore the economy to health. If this is successfully accomplished this year, it will more firmly ground the efforts to reduce the deficit and debt over the next few years," said staff said in the Concluding Statement.

"Regarding revenues, the authorities need to conserve all available resources to meet any unexpected expenditures into 2022, and well beyond. This is one clear lesson from this completely unforeseen shock the world has suffered. We hold that this is not the right time for any further tax cuts or weakening of the tax base. Current conditions are still far too fragile for the country to afford them," they said. 

Recovery and Resilience Fund provides unique opportunity for economic development

They said that there were few doubts that a post-pandemic "will be more digitalized in the most basic aspects of our lives, and that it should be greener. In these two areas, Croatia has great strides to take, from which there will be a sizable return on investment, for decades to come."

The IMF reiterated that "our most important recommendation was to raise public investment, for the sake of future growth. Now, that conviction has only deepened, as it is important to acknowledge a singular aspect in which Croatia is actually better off than it was before the pandemic."

That is "the generous allocation of EU Funds, including from the Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF). The RRF resources amount to 10.6 percent of GDP in grants to be utilized by 2026."

"These funds reflect a truly unique opportunity along the path of economic development, which many countries in the world are not fortunate enough to have. It is important for all stakeholders in Croatia to fully understand the significance of this opportunity. These funds are available, but they need to be absorbed efficiently, and in a timely manner. They must also be accompanied by needed reforms," the IMF said.

"Thanks to the influx of these EU funds beginning towards the end of this year, Croatia can significantly upgrade its public capital stock, decarbonize its economy, catch up with digitalization, and improve its maritime and rail transport systems. If the projected investments go according to plan, we currently assess that the funds from the RRF alone could add as much as 2.9 percentage points to real GDP over the next twenty years."

Opportunity to reduce income gap in relation to EU

"When the effects of the planned reforms, as well as the other EU structural funds are put together, Croatia now has its best chance since independence to significantly narrow the current 35% gap in per capita income with respect to the EU average," the mission said.

It added that "the prospect of living in a vibrant society with prosperity rapidly converging to EU levels could cause the young to fundamentally re-evaluate their future, thereby further stemming the tide of outward migration. That, in turn, would have the positive effect of reducing risks to the sustainability of the healthcare and pensions systems. It is very much possible now, and unlike ever before, to start a virtuous cycle - and to definitively escape past vicious circles."

The authorities have requested a Public Investment Management Assessment from the IMF, to take place in August 2021, the statement noted. "This assessment will help prepare an action plan to help make sure investment spending is effective, is sensitive to climate change related considerations and supports sustainable long-term growth."

The authorities’ National Recovery and Resilience Plan "has laid out major complementary reform commitments across five components: green and digital economy, public administration and judiciary, education, science and research, labor market and social protection, and healthcare. These are essential for the flexibility Croatia needs to operate its economy smoothly, once inside the eurozone."

Reforms needed for stronger public finance

Within the reform areas where the strength of public finances is the focus, IMF staff re-emphasizes the importance of support, from all stakeholders, for civil service and administrative reforms, "including a modernization of the public salary system, as well as improving the territorial organization of sub-national governments."

Support is also called for ending "stop-gap measures to take care of healthcare arrears, through an overhaul of its cost structure" and "exploring a more sustainable revenue base, to preserve healthcare quality standards."

The IMF also recommends the development and implementation of a full-fledged strategy for state-owned enterprises (SOEs), "including the separation of core from non-core businesses, and a strengthened oversight system for the former to ensure that they contribute their fair share to the budget by remaining financially durable after their public service obligations are met. The authorities’ commitments to sell some non-core SOEs over the next few years is a promising start." 

Also recommended is ensuring the long-term sustainability of the pension system, given population aging.

In addition to these areas, constantly improving the competitiveness of the Croatian economy through active dialogue with the private sector, remains essential.

"For the forthcoming increase in public investment to have maximum effect on the economy’s growth rate, it must be complemented by increases in private investment, as well. Reforms to the framework of debt restructuring, insolvency, and efforts to further improve predictability and efficiency in legal procedures remain central to unlocking more resources from investors, as it allows them to invest with greater confidence."

Banking system liquid and sufficiently capitalized

"Monetary policy remains highly expansionary, within the exchange rate anchor in place since 1993. This stance is appropriate given the need to nurse the economy fully back to health," the IMF staff said.

The recent pick-up in inflation is more likely than not to be transitory in nature, but should inflationary pressures prove more persistent than in the euro area, the central bank "may consider reducing excess liquidity in the banking system, while maintaining exchange rate stability."

"The banking system has remained liquid and is on average well capitalized," the mission said, adding that there was more than enough money to meet the demand for corporate loans.

Housing lending remains strong, while uninsured household cash loans have decreased, which the IMF said was positive.

Although the ratio of non-performing loans to total loans has remained stable, the so-called stage II loans, a forward-looking indicator of future asset quality problems, has risen - particularly for non-financial corporations. This development warrants continued close monitoring."

"The pandemic has not affected the upward trend in house prices in Zagreb and coastal areas. To the extent that housing purchases are not driven by excessive household borrowing, they do not constitute an immediate financial stability risk," the IMF said.

However, this also requires continued monitoring by the central bank, If circumstances require it, the central bank "might wish to consider putting in place more formal macro-prudential measures (than the current implicit debt-service-to-income ratio included in the Foreclosure Act)."

"Despite the considerable setback dealt by the pandemic, Croatia has a rare opportunity, over the next five years, to restore its people and economy to health. It can ramp up the public investments necessary for appreciably higher growth rates, with the help of EU funds. Such opportunities should not be taken for granted. The onus of efforts is not exclusively on the authorities. All stakeholders in society must offer them the support for vital reforms, while doing their parts to re-energize private investment, and innovation. Adopting the euro will help remove some existing economic frictions by removing exchange rate risk. Yet, reaping the full benefits of the currency union requires strong focus and preparation. A brighter future is very much within reach. The time to act is now," according to the Concluding Statement.

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

 

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman For Opening EU Entry Talks With N. Macedonia, Albania as Soon as Possible

ZAGREB, 22 June, 2021 - North Macedonia and Albania have met all the criteria to open EU accession negotiations as soon as possible and Kosovo deserves visa liberalisation, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday in Luxembourg.

"Albania and North Macedonia have met all the criteria and we believe that accession negotiations should be opened with them as soon as possible," said Grlić Radman upo arriving in Luxembourg for a General Affairs Council meeting.

The General Affairs Council is composed of foreign or European affairs ministers of the member states. They convened today to discuss preparations for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday on migration, enlargement and the stabilisation and association process.  Furthermore, the Portuguese presidency will inform the EU ministers about the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

One of the more important topics to be debated within Article 7 is the rule of law in Hungary and Poland.

Accession intergovernmental conferences with Serbia and Montenegro will be held on the margins of today's meeting, but without opening or closing any policy chapters. So-called political intergovernmental conferences are a new approach in the accession process.

Agreement still has not been reached to open negotiations with North Macedonia due to objections by Bulgaria and no progress is expected before elections in Bulgaria scheduled for next month.

There are no blockades regarding Albania, however some countries do not wish to separate the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Grlić Radman that Croatia supports the motion for liberalising the visa regime for Kosovo as soon as possible.

Croatia would like talks on candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be launched as soon as possible too, said Grlić Radman and once again underscored the need for the election law in that country to be changed so that it ensures the equality of all three constitutent peoples.

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

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman Calls on Remaining EU Countries to Recognise Kosovo

ZAGREB, 16 June, 2021 - Croatia encourages the remaining EU countries who have not done so to recognise Kosovo's independence, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Wednesday, which is a move that Serbia certainly will not be pleased with as it does not recognise the sovereignty of its former southern province.

Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and it has been recognised by about one hundred countries, including all EU member states with the exception of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Spain and Slovakia.

"Croatia encourages the remaining five EU member states to recognise Kosovo because that would contribute to stabilising the region and Kosovo itself," Grlić Radman told reporters.

Today Grlić Radman is participating at the international GLOBSEC conference in Bratislava, convened to discuss also the situation in the western Balkans.

Croatia's foreign minister said that three things were key to the region's stability: respecting countries' territorial integrity, equal constitutional rights of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the establishment of mutual trust after the 1990s wars.

"The territorial integrity of Balkan countries needs to be preserved and respected, hence without changing borders like we heard over the past few months in some much-vaunted non-papers that were heading in that direction," said Grlić Radman.

He believes that trust can be achieved through sincere talks, by resolving the issue of the war missing, processing war crimes and providing justice for the victims.

Speaking about BiH, he said the country is trapped between two political tendencies - centralism, or rather unitarism, and separatism.

"That undermines the foundations of a stable BiH and negatively reflects on the status of the Croat people in BiH," he underscored.

He reiterated Croatia's stance that the multi-ethnic BiH needs to reforms the election law to eliminate any form of discrimination and violation of equal rights.

Grlić Radman said that Croatia is a "sincere advocate" of BiH's Euro-Atlantic pathway and that at all international forums it keeps that country in the limelight because it is in its interest to have a stable, functioning and prosperous country in its neighbourhood.

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

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Interior Minister Davor Božinović: Clear Link Between Croatia's Schengen Membership And EU Security

ZAGREB, 8 June, 2021 - The Strategy for the Schengen Area for the first time clearly articulates the link between Croatia's membership of the Schengen Area and the EU's security, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

“The debate today on the Strategy for the Schengen Area is especially significant for us because for the first time it has identified a clear link between Croatia's membership of the Schengen Area and security for the EU as a whole," Božinović said ahead of a meeting of the EU's Home Affairs Council.

The interior ministers of EU member states met in Luxembourg on Tuesday for an initial discussion on the Schengen strategy that was presented by the European Commission last week. The agenda also includes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fight against organised crime, the internal security outlook in terms of artificial intelligence, cooperation in the fight against terrorism and exchanging opinions on the current status in the discussion on the new migration and asylum pact.

Last week the Commission presented the strategy towards a "stronger and more resilient" Schengen Area, which includes enlargement to EU member states that are still not part of the area, and called for Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania to be admitted into the Schengen Area as they had met the technical criteria for the application of the Schengen acquis. 

Božinović said that it was becoming more and more clear that Europe's security was not the sum of security capacities of member states but that it was cooperation, interoperability and solidarity.

"These are the principles that Croatia has insisted upon in European forums for years," said Božinović.

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

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO): 7% of Croatians Misled Into Buying Counterfeits

ZAGREB, 8 June, 2021 - Nine percent of Europeans and seven percent of Croatians have been misled into buying counterfeit products, according to a survey released by the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) on Tuesday.

The study, entitled "European Citizens and Intellectual Property", shows that consumers find it difficult to distinguish between genuine and fake products.

Nearly one in ten Europeans claimed that they were misled into buying counterfeits, but there were considerable differences between EU member states. 19% of Bulgarians, 16% of Romanians and 15% of Hungarians said they were deceived, compared to 2% of Swedes and 3% of Danes.

Croatia was below the EU average, with 7% of its citizens saying they were misled into buying counterfeit products.

According to Eurostat, over 70% of Europeans shopped online in 2020, and uncertainty regarding counterfeit products has become a growing concern for consumer protection, the study showed.

Counterfeit products represent 6.8 % of EU imports worth €121 billion and impact every sector, from cosmetics and toys, wine and beverages, electronics and clothing to pesticides and pharmaceutical products. They pose serious risks to the health and safety of citizens as they usually do not comply with quality and safety standards.

The study says that the worldwide trade in counterfeit pharmaceutical products has been estimated at €4 billion. Digital piracy also represents a highly lucrative market for infringers. Just in the area of internet protocol television (IPTV), €1 billion of unlawful revenue is generated every year by the
supply and consumption of copyright-infringing digital content in the EU, harming creators and
legitimate businesses.

Counterfeiting affects not only consumers, but it also causes considerable damage to the EU
economy, notably small and medium enterprises (SMEs). One in four SMEs and 21.7% of SMEs in Croatia said they suffered damage on account of intellectual property rights infringement, according to the study.

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

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