Evolving Regional Governance Structures for future EU Cohesion Policy: Croatian Perspectives
European cohesion policy has been inspiring Croatian national policy makers for a decade in the attempt to organize and prepare the institutional structures for new ways of designing and implementing a modern regional development policy. Emphasis has been put to a large extent on the design of strategic development documents, while implementation remains problematic. As Croatia is becoming an EU member in July 2013, the future EU Cohesion policy becomes also important for national development policy. Through EU pre-accession funded projects, the first regional operational programmes have been drafted in the period 2001-2003. At that time, no NUTS classification of regions existed and focus was on counties, which today have NUTS III level status. Croatiaâ€™s regional policy was rather fragmented and oriented towards areas of special concern such as war torn areas, island, hilly and mountainous areas. The process of creating an integrated regional policy framework including a law, by-laws and a national strategy started in 2003 and ended in May 2010. Since then, all counties were obliged to formulate 3 year integrated strategic programmes involving local stakeholders into partnerships. The process is designed according to a legally prescribed methodology that is based on EU programming and partnership principles. On NUTS II level, functioning as statistical regions, three coordination partnerships of county representatives meet and discuss joint project proposals to be submitted to the national level institutions. These in turn try to establish project pipelines on national level to be ready for EU structural funding. The entire process is promising, but is full of complex and intertwined problems on all governance levels, which significantly influences policy implementation. While policymakers and public administrations are thinking more of the efficiency of the system and its institutions, the regional and local stakeholdersâ€™ and the research communityâ€™s attention is more on effectiveness of the policy. In order to establish regional governance system that works, cooperation and coordinated actions of all sides is required. The main aim of this paper is to present the evolution of the partnership based regional development approach in Croatia across governance levels and to critically reflect on the outcomes of this process. It is about the creation of new governance structures and new ways of how institutions work. Many problems appear along the way, but some positive experiences can be presented and analysed. Results from a recent survey and research study on experiences in regional development planning in all Croatian counties will be presented. Key words: regional development policy, cohesion policy, governance, institutions, strategic planning JEL: R58 (Regional Development Planning and Policy), H83 (Public Administration), P11 (Capitalist Planning, Coordination and Reform)
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