The Pelješac (Sabbioncello) Bridge, which will connect the Peljesac peninsula and Dubrovnik to the Croatian mainland, 85 % of which is to be funded by the Commission to the tune of EUR 354 million, is to be built by the Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which won the tender in 2017. China’s policy of building strategic infrastructure is a clear manifestation of Beijing’s desire for expansion.
On 16 September 2020, Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Elena Lizzi of the Identity and Democracy Group raised a written parliamentary question to the European Commission.
“In view of the EUR 60 million discount, the six-month reduction in construction time and the use of EU citizens’ money”, MEP Lizzi enquired “is the participation in calls for tender – involving the use of EU funds – of economic operators owned by third countries in which democratic principles and human rights are not respected, in keeping with EU policy?”
Also, MEP Lizzi asked the Commission “is it aware of any cases of Chinese workers working on the Croatian bridge without regular permits?” and “is there any official notification relating to the postponement of the completion of the work, the deadline for which had been 31 July 2021, and has any provision been made for a penalty, where appropriate?”
On 21 December, Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira responded on behalf of the European Commission. In her answer, she reported that “in its 2019 guidance on the participation of third country bidders and goods in the EU procurement market, the Commission clarified that economic operators from third countries which have not entered into any agreement with the EU providing for the opening of their public procurement market or whose goods, services or works are not covered by such an agreement, do not have secured access to procurement procedures in the EU and may be excluded”.
Commissioner Ferreira explained that “the guidance also provides advice on how to set and enforce high social, environmental and labour standards for all bidders, regardless of their origin” and “the Commission pursues the opening of foreign procurement markets by securing the broadest possible commitments from countries aiming to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) and negotiating and implementing ambitious provisions on public procurement in Free Trade Agreements”. She added that “the economic operator and its workers are subject to Croatian labour laws and it is up to the Croatian authorities to enforce those”.
Commissioner Ferreira clarified that “under the shared management of European Structural and Investment Funds, it is the responsibility of the Member State to select and monitor the implementation of individual projects within Operational Programmes”. She underlined that “the deadline for the entire project completion according to the major project application form is 31 January 2022” and added that “however, this can be prolonged with a justification of the Managing authority”.
Lastly, Commissioner Ferreira declared that “the final eligibility date for expenditure under the 2014-2020 funds is 31 December 2023” and “as regards the building of the bridge, the construction company has to abide by the provisions of the contract with the beneficiary (Croatian Roads Company) which stipulates the conditions and the possible liquidated damages for delays”.
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