“In recent years, Slovenia and Croatia have gained good experience of cross-border cooperation and have realized many projects, which successfully operate on both sides of the border,” Alenka Smerkolj, the Minister for Development, Strategic Projects and Cohesion Policies, said at the conference on cross-border cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia held in the Brežice Castle.
The meeting was organized by the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy (GODECP), which oversees the programs of cross-border cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia in 2007–2013 and 2014–2020. The GODECP informs that the participants have discussed the current results of the cooperation, the development of projects and plans for the future.
Results of the Cooperation
In 2007–2013, the Government Office implemented 95 projects totalling 43 million euros that were allocated by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The projects concerned the development of tourism and rural areas, entrepreneurship, social integration, environmental protection, protection of natural and cultural heritage. For the new financial period of 2014–2020, the European Regional Development Fund has earmarked 46 million euros.
Alenka Smerkolj notes that an open tender that allows for a quick submission of projects and moving to the e-cohesion (an electronic form of cooperation) has become an important innovation for the new financial period. Alenka Smerkolj explains that this feature reduces the time spent from project approval until signing the agreement. However, the Minister argues that the simplification of official procedures has suddenly caused some difficulties. These are the “diametric differences between the desires of beneficiaries and the expectations of the European Commission.” The European Commission introduces new regulations for each new reporting period. In the past period, the regulations and recommendations were published on 1,700 pages. However, during the current period, according to the Minister, they have already accounted for 4,000 pages. Alenka Smerkolj notes that “the number of comments continues growing.”
The cross-border cooperation between the two countries started 13 years ago in 2003. At that time, Slovenia began implementing the PHARE program, and Croatia launched the CARDS 2003 program — Local Development of Frontier Regions (Lokalni razvoj obmejnih regij — in Slovenian). In 2004, with the help of the EU funds, both countries, together with Hungary, developed a trilateral program of cross-border cooperation in order to strengthen the interstate relations and to improve the preparation for the EU accession. The program laid the foundations for the implementation of joint projects in the economic and social spheres, the use of human and sustainable development. In 2014–2020, the cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia expands further successfully.