“European funds represent a big opportunity for Spanish companies, world leaders in sectors such as transport, renewables, and food, to share their experience with Croatian companies,” he said after meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, and President Zoran Milanović.
In February, the Spanish company COMSA landed a €35.7 million contract to build waterworks in Metković, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in that southern Croatian town to date. COMSA is also modernizing a railway from Vinkovci to Vukovar in east Croatia.
Brussels is pushing for the construction of a 7,000-kilometre railway from Spain via France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary to the Ukrainian border. Known as the Mediterranean Corridor, this route could be completed in 2030. It would reduce transport costs and the pollution created by road transport.
Croatia joined the project in 2016 and sees it as an opportunity to modernize its railway from Rijeka via Zagreb to Budapest, with a branch line from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Croatia has requested the extension of its section across the Lika region towards the Dalmatia region and the southernmost seaport of Ploče.
As part of its cohesion policy to reduce differences between poor and rich parts of the EU, the European Commission made €10.7 billion available to Croatia in the 2014-20 period, but Croatia contracted projects worth more than that, so they should enter the 2021-27 EU budget. In the months ahead, Croatia will propose other projects for financing.
Spain’s COMSA and other foreign companies will apply to tenders in Croatia, 85% of which will be co-financed by the EU. Since joining the EU in 1986, Spain has modernized its railways and roads with EU money.
The Spanish government, therefore, supports Croatia’s accession to the Schengen and euro areas.
“Croatia and Spain share many common interests in the EU,” Sánchez said at a press conference in Zagreb.
In 2019, Spain sold €840 million worth of goods and services to Croatia, while importing €266 million worth of goods, according to Croatian Chamber of Commerce data. After that record-high, the coronavirus halted trade.
Although Spanish companies are behind German and Italian ones as to their presence in Croatia, they are trying to expand operations. The Ale-Hop gift shop chain last week opened a store in Zadar, which is its first shop outside Spain and Portugal.
Spain supports EU enlargement to Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo to expand its market.
“Since coming to the helm of the government, I have always pushed for a bigger presence of my country in this region, confident that we share many things,” said the Socialist Sánchez, in power since summer 2018.
At an EU-Western Balkans summit in Slovenia on Wednesday, the EU did not say when those Western Balkan countries might join the bloc.
Croatia, which joined in 2013, invited Sánchez to visit last month, but he canceled due to a reshuffle in his coalition government.
In recent years, Spain has intensified its officials’ visits to Croatia. In 2019, the then foreign minister Josep Borrell visited Zagreb, which was the first visit by a Spanish minister in 14 years.
Every year 10% more Spanish tourists had been visiting Croatia. In 2019, there were 315,000 arrivals, but after the pandemic outbreak in spring 2020, arrivals dropped to 27,000, according to Croatian Tourist Board figures for last year.
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