Your Excellency Envoy of the Prime Minister and Minister Primorac,
Your Excellencies Ministers Fuchs, Malenica and Erlić,
Dear partners, former Minsters, Ambassadors, and friends,
It is a real honor to welcome you today on this momentous occasion–the celebration of 30 years of partnership between the World Bank Group and Croatia.
Allow me, for a moment, to take you back to its very beginning. The year is 1993. The World Bank is preparing its first ever loan to Croatia as a sovereign country - an emergency loan for reconstruction of critical infrastructure. Our documents from that time read as follows:
Thousands of lives lost, miles of territory where no building was left standing. 350,000 displaced people. Roads, railroads, telecommunications, and energy transmission lines blown up. A 25% drop in output, a 90% drop in tourism receipts, and an 18% unemployment rate. Loss of all foreign exchange reserves and no ready access to foreign financing. Annual inflation rate of over 1,500%.
Three decades later, Croatia stands whole, at peace, rebuilt, and safely anchored in the EU, NATO, Schengen and the Eurozone. GDP per capita has reached 70 percent of EU average, unemployment is below 7%, poverty is at 1.4%.
And the World Bank in Croatia? We are no longer helping rebuild broken transmission lines or introduce the setup of market institutions. Today, Croatia is setting its sight on joining the global knowledge economy because it recognizes that if Croatian companies are to compete globally, the country needs to change the way it invests in innovation.
Later this month we will inaugurate a cutting-edge project that will help exactly that— scale-up Croatia’s research and innovation capacity to improve quality research outputs that feed into commercially viable green and digital technologies.
What a profound transformation this is!
Today, we pay respect to the tremendous effort and perseverance that the country as a whole has shown to get where we are today, notwithstanding the challenges along the way:
- from the Post-war reconstruction & transition to market economy in the 1990s;
- through the consolidation of democratic and market institutions, and preparation for EU accession in the 2000s;
- all the way to entry into the EU, Eurozone and Schengen this year, and beyond.
The World Bank Group is proud to have been a trusted partner to Croatia every step of the way. Over the past 30 years, we have invested $6.5 billion across more than 100 projects. We have produced over 330 country reports and studies.
Our objective has always been to deliver quality assistance on the basis of rigorous analytical work and global best practice. Let me to share with you some numbers:
- For the benefit of Croatia, we mobilized relevant knowledge & expertise of 10,000 staff in more than 130 offices across the globe;
- We supported capacity building that is essential for effective institutions and the provision of public services; and
- We provided financing and helped set standards that are needed to implement the most difficult reforms.
And while we continue to bring global knowledge and development solutions to Croatia, we are now also a partner to Croatia in bringing your experience and solutions to other countries. I am happy to say that the work we are doing here together, for instance on agricultural supply chain policies, is inspiring reforms in Mexico, Georgia and Kazakhstan. And our partnership on science and technology is influencing approaches in Poland and Czechia.
There have been many truly inspiring joint endeavors which have touched the lives of people in every corner of Croatia.
Allow me to mention just a few:
- Over 230,000 people in 23 coastal municipalities have benefited from improved provision of efficient and sustainable water services through the [Second] Coastal Cities Pollution Control Project in 2009-2015;
- We have supported a dramatic increase in the speed of land administration services - Croatian citizens and businesses are now able to obtain their documents online with increased quality and reliability thanks to our three lending projects over the last 20 years;
- Our two Rijeka Gateway projects helped modernize Rijeka port, enhance its financial performance and quality of services, and position it as a strategic Northern Adriatic hub with traffic volume exceeding 6.3 million tons of cargo in 2022.
- This fall, we will start assisting 64 demonstration schools across Croatia in
piloting the Whole Day School model, boosting student learning outcomes.
And while we celebrate these and many other joint successes today, more is ahead of us.
Croatia has set its sights high. To reach its full potential, the country needs to press forward with further structural reforms – especially in the areas of education, labor market, business environment and justice – which will help unlock productivity and economic growth for fully converging with the rest of the EU. And further improvements in institutional effectiveness and quality of public services are important to support this ambition.
There are many reasons to believe this is all well within reach: the momentum from Europe’s green and digital transition, the EU’s investments in the country, and the opportunities brought about by new technologies and skills – an exciting topic we will hear more about later today. I look forward to seeing where our partnership takes us next.
In closing, allow me to thank you for working with us and for trusting us over the last 30 years.
We stand by Croatia. And we believe in, yes, a prosperous future for Croatia! The country's history and its people deserve it; its tremendous potential demands it.