Zagreb - A ceremony was held in Parliament on Friday to mark 15 years since the establishment of the Croatian Association of Counties (HZZ).
The event was attended, among others, by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević as representative of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and several other cabinet ministers.
Grabar-Kitarović emphasised the role of counties in absorbing EU funding, saying that in this regard the counties in general performed better than the central government. That's why she called for the further empowerment of the counties by transferring the powers for absorbing EU funding from the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds to the counties, citing the Polish model.
The president said that the government had made significant progress in tax policy and that additional steps should be taken. "We need to have confidence in the principle of subsidiarity," she said, adding that functional and financial decentralisation would reduce unnecessary administration and ensure speedier implementation of investment projects in local and regional government units and more dynamic development of enterprise.
"In order to achieve this, cooperation between counties and central government must never depend on current relations between political forces. More dialogue is needed. This government should be commended for establishing ongoing dialogue with the counties, as shown by government meetings being held in different counties," Grabar-Kitarović said.
She said that the counties rightfully expected comprehensive measures for demographic revitalisation from central government.
Jandroković said that regional policy should be systematic and should reflect synergy between central and local government, adding that this also required a strong partnership at the national level. He stressed that Parliament's support for their work was unquestionable.
Jandroković said that in meetings with local and regional government leaders he could see for himself that the process of decentralisation, especially of fiscal decentralisation, had produced good results.
"Last week I visited Garešnica, Daruvar and Grubišno Polje. Their budgets have increased significantly, which has resulted in investments in infrastructure and economic and demographic projects," he said, adding that this process should continue.
Jandroković said that Croatia had 80 billion kuna (10.8 billion euros) at its disposal until 2020, of which 63 billion kuna (8.5 billion euros) for cohesion policy. "The latest data shows that all Croatian counties use European funds. Absorption of funding should be improved and accelerated, and county development agencies have an important role in this," he said.
Kuščević said that one of the measures in this reform area was to define a model for functional and fiscal decentralisation, the ultimate goal of which is to improve the functional division of powers and the efficiency of local and regional government units. He called on the HZZ to become actively involved in this process.
Minister of Regional Development and EU Funds Gabrijela Žalac called on the counties to work together and plan investment projects together.
The HZZ was established in 2003 with the aim of promoting the interests of local and regional government units.(Hina)