Croatia is a country that was developed on the contact of different geographical units (Adriatic – Dinaric – Pannonian area). The Croatian state, established in its first form since 7th C., consisted of two complementary regions: Littoral/Adriatic Croatia and Pannonian Croatia. Croatia entered the 20th century with consolidated administrative units: 8 counties (“županija”) and the City of Rijeka in the Hungarian part of AU Monarchy, 5 in the Austrian part. After WWII, during the communist rule, the scheme of regionalisation changed often and radically, with all the characteristics of confusion. In 1955 the number of districts diminished to 27, as well as the number of municipalities, to 299. Although this last scheme was finally acceptable and lasted seven years, in 1962 new regionalisation (about 110 municipalities in 8-9 communities of municipalities) was implemented.
After the Republic of Croatia entered the international community as an independent state, the traditional name for regional units (“županija”) was revived, and by law at the end of 1992, the restored regional structure was implemented. This included 21 regions – counties (“županija”) including the City of Zagreb. The EU integration influenced the development of a regional policy, impacted by EU integration; and positive effects, slowly but surely, can be seen.
New Government, economic crisis and cohesion
After the elections in 2011 took place, the new government, which changed previously in 2007, articulated the NUTS 2 scheme and in 2012 arranged with EU Commission two regions: Continental Croatia (2.9 million inhabitants), and Littoral Croatia (1.4). All Croatian counties have been proclaimed NUTS 3 regions, although ten of them do not satisfy not a sufficient number of residents (150 – 800 thousand). As basic territorial-administrative units they play the role of formal regions. The administrative cities and municipalities (558) were de ned as LAU 1 units, and the settlements (6756) as LAU 2 units.
In the conditions of a grave economic, financial and social crisis, Croatia did not manage to achieve social and economic cohesion, and the differences in GDP among NUTS 3 regions are strongly expressed. However, it is obvious that pre-accession and structural funds, technical and expert assistance, especially in regions that organized effective logistic teams, helped to achieve a noticeable development.
State of informal regions
The informal regions, as the second group of regions in Croatia, are formed on the basis of joining counties and/or municipalities, administrative cities, related to specific zoning of the country, for the purposes of specialized studies for certain programs. This group of territorial units accounts for the “targeted support areas”, which make up the first group of all Areas of Special State Care (ASSC) and Mountainous Areas, defined by the special Law 2008 (NN 86/2008 – 148/2013). Cross-border regions make up a second group of informal regions. These regions fall within the scope of cross-border cooperation. The geographic position of Croatia as part of the EU and an external border area of the EU stimulate cross-border and regional cooperation, coordination and planning. There are few initiatives elaborated upon in the country report: the Alps-Adriatic Working Community (1978), the Adriatic Euroregion (2006), the Adriatic-Ionian Region (2012), the IPA Adriatic Cross-border Cooperation Programme, the Danube Region (2009), the Euroregional cooperation Danube-Drava-Sava (1998), the Cross- Border Cooperation SLO-CRO: (2008), the Hungary-Croatia – IPA Cross-border Programme 2007-2013, and the South-East European Collaboration (NALAS).
A specific area of regional cooperation in Croatia covers the Croatian Islands’ Insular Parliament – the Association for Development of Croatian Islands – which unites all Croatian islands as disperse, informal units, belonging to the 7 different counties of Adriatic Croatia.
Budget for regions
Currently, there are no own budgets for the NUTS 2 regions, since they function as the coordinative territorial bodies of counties. On the other hand, NUTS 3 regions (counties) have their own budgets. The budgets are controlled from within (county assembly and county government) and from above (o ces of State Administration, Ministry of Finance, Tax and Fiscal Administration etc.). Fiscal competencies are not equalized and the power of the state is more heavily articulated. The control function of the state (government, ministries) is more than significant. However, recently the EU policy regarding regionalism has slowly become part of the regional policy in Croatia; supervision and interference by the state and its bodies, especially by the ministries, agencies, offices etc. affect the regional autonomy of counties.
Political parties have a major impact on regional structure and organisation. The horizontal and vertical governance between regions and the state as well as between regions and local authorities depend on the power relations of the ruling parties and the impact of capital and other stakeholders at the regional level.
Electoral areas in Croatia mostly do not follow the administrative and territorial network of counties/regions, but they have been fixed for more than two decades.
Three referendums occurred since 1991 (on Croatia’s independence in 1991, on Croatian accession to the European Union in 2012, and on the basis of collected signatures of citizens on the constitutional definition of marriage in 2013). As in many countries, in Croatia the problem of corruption has been evident. In 2013 Croatia placed 57th among 177 countries in the world according to the fight against corruption. Croatia’s regional media, depending on whom they are managed by, can play or have a corresponding role in discussing the problematic of regionalism, regional level, autonomy etc.
The country is regionally rich in cultural heritage. With numerous material remains that testify to continuous human presence in all Croatian regions, a large quantity of very different and rich intangible heritage has been preserved.
The degree of tolerance and minorities’ rights are pretty high. Enjoying all general civil rights, minorities have specific rights to their language, script, cultural identity, religion, customs etc, and special rights in Parliament.
NUTS 2 regions, as well as NUTS 3 regions (counties) in Croatia are characterized by pronounced economic disparities and differences.
New reform of regionalisation in sight
A new reform of the Croatian regions, formally and informally, has been announced for almost 10 years. However, a new reform, which is often discussed in recent times as necessary to give the regions the chance to act as more independent entities at last, has been cancelled. Financial relations, respectively to balance and equalize revenue between state and counties/municipalities should be improved. Better and clearer allocation of competences (education, health, the judiciary, administration, security, customs etc.) is necessary. Despite the administrative-territorial regionalisation in 21 counties and the proclaimed power dissipation, in Croatia the polarization process continued without serious implementation of the balanced polycentric development option.
Namely, without public consensus and by using insufficient and unfounded explanations, the current Croatian government in the last two years, changed or has been trying to change existing laws to reorganize the current competencies of the regions – counties. Different functions are planned to be concentrated in only 4-5 cities. They would thus become the centres of the new, larger spatial regions. This follows the old model used in the time of socialism. Thus, 15 of the current AER member regions would lose their authorities, as well as their real regional status. They would actually become a kind of sub-region.
In comparison with other regions in Europe, maybe they will not keep their formal roles in the coming years of further regionalisation in Croatia, or maybe some of them will be reshaped or even abolished.
If a reduction in the number of counties is considered, it is certainly necessary to define, within the Adriatic Croatia border (NUTS II region), at least three regions: Istria-Primorje-Gorski Kotar (or Rijeka), North Dalmatia-Lika (or Zadar) and Middle-South Dalmatia (or Split). In Continental Croatia, besides the regions of largest cities Zagreb (Zagreb City, Zagreb Region) and Osijek, cities such as Slavonski Brod and Varaždin should also be recognised as regional centres.
by Damir Magas
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.