As the Chinese show greater interest in various Croatian strategic projects, the EU and the EC become more and more uneasy at the thought of such a heavy Chinese business presence in Croatia. As the EC changes its attitude towards some Croatian projects to which it reacted negatively in the past, has the Chinese influence rendered this change of heart senseless?
As Novac/Kresimir Zabec writes on the 13th of April, 2019, Croatia wants to finance the construction of the railway line from Karlovac to Rijeka, covering a length of 170 kilometres with EU funds, because that’s more favourable to Croatia than doing it through a concession, stated Croatian Minister of Transport Oleg Butković at the construction site of Pelješac bridge recently.
Ironically much like Chinese whispers, it began to circulate in the media that everything had already been agreed with the Chinese, and that China’s CRBC which is already building Pelješac bridge would construct the railway line via a concession model. Economy Minister Darko Horvat has thus announced giving the Chinese company a fifty year concession. However, Butković has very clearly stated that there has been absolutely no direct agreement with the Chinese and that everything will go through a tender, as usual.
”If we decide on a concession tender, then Chinese companies can also apply. If the line is built using EU funds, Chinese companies will be able to bid to be the contractors for the project,” said Butković.
EU funding for the project is much more favourable for Croatia because it doesn’t affect the growth of public debt. Should the case result in giving a concession to a Chinese company, they would build and finance it, but with government guarantees amounting to 1.7 billion euros, which is something the state can ill afford. According to current projections, the entire line should be completed by 2030.
Of the 270 kilometre of railway line from Botovo on the Croatian-Hungarian border, to Rijeka on the shores of the Northern Adriatic, the section from Karlovac to Rijeka is currently not covered at all by any form of EU co-financing.
A few years ago, the European Commission told the Croatian Government quite clearly that they would not finance that part of the line from Karlovac to Rijeka because it was too expensive and it just doesn’t pay off. After that, the Croatian Government turned to the Chinese who were constantly showing interest in constructing that section. Now that the negotiations between China and Croatia have entered a much deeper and more serious phase, signals from Brussels, more specifically the European Commission, have been arriving which indicate that they are, despite all, still interested in the project.
Although that railway line is not officially part of the trans-European transport network, senior officials of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Transport have openly told reporters that the Commission is ready to co-finance this project, and that it is a very important part of the European budget planning in the period commencing in 2021. Quite a turnaround, no?
In addition, this railway line is part of the line from Rijeka to the Hungarian border, which the European Commission has invested around 400 million euros into the modernisation and construction of, and that obviously doesn’t quite sit well with the idea of the entrance of the Chinese into this project. According to statements, the ultimate goal of the overall project is to build a new bridge to the island of Krk and to build a new port on the island for container transport, which is an idea that the Chinese are also very interested in.
What stage are the works in?
Rijeka – Zagreb
The railway line from Rijeka tp Zagreb to the Hungarian border is part of the international Mediterranean Corridor connecting southern Europe with Central and Eastern Europe. The modernisation of this line would be of great importance to the Port of Rijeka. The modernisation and the construction of these lines are all in different stages of execution.
Botovo – Koprivnica – Križevci
In 2016, the European Commission approved 240 million euro for Croatia to build this section, but the contractor for the job hasn’t yet been selected. A tender is in progress, but it has been stopped once again due to an appeal lodged by an Italian company.
Križevci – Dugo Selo
This is the only section of the track where works are ongoing. The European Union has invested about 180 million euros in this project, but works began a year and a half late because of contractor issues.
Hrvatski Leskovac – Karlovac
The design of this part of the line was co-financed by the EU in the amount of about 6 million euros. It is expected that tenders will be announced to modernise the existing works and build another track. The value of the works is estimated at 315 million euros and is planned to be funded through EU funds.
Karlovac – Oštarije
An entirely new two-track railway would be constructed on this part of the track, and the value of the works would be estimated at about 400 million euros. Project documentation has been produced, which has been paid for by the EU in the amount of 9 million euros.
Oštarije – Škrljevo
This, which is considered to be the most challenging part of the line, hasn’t yet been fully defined, and technical documentation is being prepared by the EU, for which it has paid nearly 6 million euros. The value of the works on this section is estimated at as much as one billion euros.
Škrljevo – Rijeka – Jurdani
Project documentation was produced by the EU at a cost of 8.5 million euros. The value of the works is estimated at 270 million euros in total.
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