EU funds play a significant role in the development of the Croatian economy and are one of the main membership benefits. However, to withdraw money from the funds, applicants must think carefully about how their idea fits into the plans of the European Union and what they must prepare to apply.
The fastest way to learn is to get insights from other member states, and Poland is one of them.
Natalia Zielinska, a Polish national with a Croatian address and subject matter expert on EU funds, shares her expertise in solving some of the most demanding business issues for Croatians.
Since 2018, she has been CEO and Project Manager of Euro Grant Konzalting, a business that offers financial management services, including EU funds project development aimed at private and public companies and civil society organizations.
During her tenure in the company, she has prepared and implemented over 12 million kunas of the total project value.
Born in Gniezno, Poland, she studied Croatian language and European Studies while working on EU projects. A project in Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted in a love story and in turn, marriage, so Natalia moved to Croatia.
Fluent in Polish, Croatian and English, Natalia has a large business and academic network in both countries, making her a great interviewee for all EU funding topics.
How many people are in your team, and what are their specialties?
Currently, we have five full-time employees, two external associates and we are in the process of hiring a new expert associate for rural development. I hope that we will enter the new tenders for the National Recovery Plan and Financial Perspective with a team of six.
Each of us is specialised in a specific area. We have an expert for so-called soft projects, projects within the European Social Fund, a finance expert and a person specialised in the implementation of EU projects. There is also our administrative employee. For the needs of more complex projects, we have another financial expert and a colleague who speaks Polish and Croatian and often helps our investors in the first steps on the Croatian market.
As a director, I cover all areas of EU funds, but after studying the calls and arranging projects, I always share part of the work with specific people in the team.
What’s your clients’ profile and initiatives?
It all depends on the available calls, depending on whether we have funds available for associations, entrepreneurs or farmers, so we arrange specific projects. After seven years of successful business, we have our customer base to inform about available programs and consider application options. Therefore, we have a whole range of projects, from educational to infrastructural.
What types of projects would you like to see more of?
I like infrastructure projects for small businesses the most. They are concrete with tangible results and always have a great impact on the economic development of the whole region. I also like to see quality projects of local youth associations that use EU funds to solve problems at the local level.
How do you approach your prospective clients, or do they find you?
When a specific competition comes out, we know how to create a promotional campaign, but we no longer do a strict marketing campaign or a free webinar as we did at the beginning. Now, we have enough clients in our database to find a few interested clients for each opportunity.
Can you tell us more about investors’ support?
As we have implemented many EU projects, our clients often looked for machinery, equipment and other suppliers from Poland. We realised a lack of this type of support in the market, the lack of people and institutions that know both markets, Croatian and Polish, and can connect entrepreneurs, suppliers and business partners. That’s why we developed EGK INVESTMENTS, and to this day, we help Polish investors establish themselves on the Croatian market.
What would you highlight in the 2021-2027 framework of European Structural and Investments fronts?
The new financial framework is still in the preparation phase, so it isn’t easy to assess or evaluate until it is ready with concrete indicators and investment priorities. I actively participate in preparing the operational program from the European Social Fund, where there are many activities on projects for deinstitutionalisation, the fight against poverty and the development of the non-governmental cultural sector.
How does the European Green Deal impact Croatia?
It is necessary to develop institutions at the local or regional level that would offer beneficiaries information and support at the time of project application to avoid misinformation and inadequate applications. However, the most significant delay comes during evaluating projects, which can last up to a year.
How can Croatia fast-track funds applications and grants?
If we want to speed up allocating EU funds, we need to work on organising the work of implementing bodies.
What are the differences between the Zagreb region and Karlovac County in the number and type of projects?
There are no drastic differences. The needs of all entrepreneurs, farmers or associations are the same regardless of residence, except in rural areas such as Karlovac County, we have more projects for farmers, which is expected. We do hope that her persuasive story and business drive will get even more ideas floating around, and possibly make even a larger impact on our surroundings.