Cooperation with Croatia takes shape

Article, 31.05.2017

Two and a half years after the Swiss Parliament approved an EU enlargement contribution of CHF 45 million for Croatia, the commitment period is due to expire at the end of May 2017. The two countries have agreed on 12 projects during this time. The cooperation will focus on improving the drinking water supply and waste water treatment, education and research, and demining efforts.

Apprentices sewing wigs
Croatia's private sector is to become more involved in the training of apprentices. DEZA

As the enlargement contribution for the EU's 2004 entrants approaches an end, Croatia's is just beginning to take shape. Croatia joined the EU in 2013, making it the youngest member state. In December 2014, the two chambers of the Swiss Parliament agreed to grant Croatia CHF 45 million in support under its EU enlargement contribution. The implementation of this enlargement contribution is managed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). With the commitment period coming to a close on 31 May 2017, the two countries have selected 12 projects to complete by 2024. 

All 12 projects will contribute to reducing social and economic disparities between Croatia and other EU members and within Croatia itself. The focus is on issues related to water, education and research, and demining. 

Protection of the Danube and the Adriatic Sea
Over a nine-month period, an international consortium and Switzerland conducted a detailed analysis of the existing drinking water supply and waste water treatment in Gorski Kotar, a region known as 'Croatian Switzerland'. The resulting feasibility study sets out an extensive package of measures for the region's seven municipalities, four of which are to receive Swiss support. The measures are aimed at protecting the Danube and the Adriatic Sea, both downstream from Gorski Kotar. At the same time, they will improve the quality of the water supply and help make the region more attractive economically. Two key objectives are to lower the drinking water loss rate from 52% to 34% and to achieve a sizeable reduction in the domestic waste water being discharged directly into the environment. 

Vocational education and research
Switzerland has vast experience in dual vocational education and training, and this know-how is increasingly sought after internationally. Croatia has also decided to leverage Swiss expertise in this area and use the enlargement contribution to modernise an area of its vocational education and training. At present, most such training takes place in vocational schools. The goal is to reduce youth unemployment by expanding the private sector's involvement in apprenticeships. A labour market analysis will be carried out as a basis for defining the training pathways and roles for all those involved. 

In addition, two research projects have been included in the plans: one to support joint proposals by research teams from both countries and another to help advance the careers of top-level Croatian researchers. This will facilitate and encourage international networking, the further development of methodologies and a higher quality of research. Switzerland also supports Eurostars, a programme for funding applied research within the scope of EUREKA, a pan-European network launched to raise the competitiveness of businesses though technology. Under this programme, innovation-intensive SMEs in Croatia submit a research proposal to an international committee. If the application meets the evaluation criteria in regard to quality and potential, the European programme backs the research project, with additional support from national funding. Switzerland is offering technical and financial support to improve Croatian applicants' chances of success. 

Demining activities and support for landmine victims
As a legacy from the war in the 1990s, Croatia still has a surface area of some 430km2 to be cleared of landmines – a vast and costly undertaking that the country has handled in an exemplary manner to date. The more funds made available to Croatia, the faster its demining efforts can progress. Switzerland has therefore decided to contribute to Croatia's demining activities and support its landmine victims and their families within the scope of the enlargement contribution.