Investments into remote and sparsely populated regions are an often overlooked area of EU support. EURACTIV travelled to Ličko-Senjska county in central Croatia, a two-hour drive from the capital Zagreb, to explore how EU-funded projects are contributing to improving the lives of citizens in this mountainous area that had been a frontline during the country’s 1991-95 war of independence.
Croatia is the youngest EU member, having joined the bloc in 2013, and it also the second-poorest, after Bulgaria. The county we visited is the biggest in Croatia, it is home to the world-renowned Plitvice lakes national park, but it is also thinly populated, with barely 50,000 people, and its economy remains underdeveloped.
We spoke to three projects benefitting from EU funding.
Božidar Čaćić explained how European structural funds here have helped to clear wartime landmines in a forest that is part of the Velebit nature reserve and preserve its ecosystem. He explained that “because of long-time neglect of mine-infested forest areas, it has been impossible to appropriately manage forests in the project area for many years now, which led to damage to forests and forest soils”.
Next came Ivica Tomljenović, the deputy mayor of Gospić, the county’s administrative centre, who told us about how EU-supported broadband infrastructure will provide high-speed internet access for more than 16,000 end users – a project commercial telecoms ignored “as providers see no commercial interest in investing here”.
Finally, we look at how cohesion money helped improve the General Hospital in Gospić, in particular its surgery ward, which has not been renovated since its construction in the 1950s, so it is “way below any standards required by modern-day health care,” according to hospital director Sandra Čubelić.