Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Funds for Reconstruction Not Decreased but Increased, FinMin Tells Lawmakers

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Speaking in the Sabor on Wednesday, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić denied claims by some opposition MPs that allocations for post-earthquake reconstruction had been decreased in the 2022 budget revision was decreasing allocations for reconstruction.

Funds are not being decreased, in fact, they are being increased by about HRK 300 million and the use of funds has been facilitated, Marić told lawmakers during a debate on the state budget revision.

Prior to the formal debate on the budget revision, the opposition made a series of objections to the government's document, saying that funds for healthcare had not been planned well and that funding for reconstruction was being decreased.

Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Peđa Grbin asked why funds for reconstruction were being decreased by more than HRK 100 million.

He recalled that when the budget was adopted the SDP said that the allocation for the health sector had not been planned well and concluded that another budget revision would be necessary in the autumn and possibly a third one by the year's end.

Anka Mrak Taritaš (Glas) said the budget revision was proof that there would be no reconstruction. She said that funds had been increased for the health and defence ministries, which, she said, were headed by the two least successful ministers.

MP: Damage caused by inflation possibly HRK 20 billion

MP Zvonimir Toskot (Bridge) said that his party had calculated that the damage caused by inflation could amount to HRK 15 or even HRK 20 billion and that "nobody is discussing how to compensate for that damage," to be paid by the entire society.

If the cost of corruption of HRK 70 billion is added, we get an amount of HRK 90 billion, which is half the budget, he said.

Željko Sačić (Sovereignists) said that he was unpleasantly surprised that the revision did not allocate more funds to the USKOK anti-corruption office or the state attorney's office to improve their working conditions.

"It seems as though the state has profited in this crisis. The question though is how will citizens and enterprises survive," said MP Ružica Vukovac, noting that the state had collected HRK 1.8 billion more in VAT and HRK 1.9 billion more in contributions on wages.

HDZ group supports budget revision

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) group supported the government's budget revision proposal.

Grozdana Perić (HDZ) recalled that the start of the year brought new geopolitical problems resulting in problems in energy supply and inflation growth, which was why the government had to deal with additional problems, such as ensuring the sustainability of the health sector, pensions, and help citizens with energy prices.

Ivana Posavec Krivec (Social Democrats) responded by saying that the budget revision was not due to the situation caused by global circumstances but rather due to the government's poor budget planning and the failure to implement crucial reforms.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Parl. Speaker Says it's not MPs' Job to Call for Somebody's Arrest

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said on Wednesday that it is not up to MPs to call for somebody's arrest, dismissing criticism from the opposition that the prime minister was pressurising chief state attorney to discourage her from prosecuting ministers suspected of criminal offences.

"Should someone commit a criminal act and that is proven, they will be arrested," Jandroković told Urša Raukar Gamulin of the Green-Left Bloc after she said she hoped State Attorney General Zlata Hrvoj Šipek would withstand pressure and make arrests.

She was commenting on Defence Minister Mario Banožić, who she said had defrauded the state of millions of kuna and committed several offences, from abuse of office to influence-peddling.

"Government ministers are falling one after another under the charges of influence- peddling and abuse of office, while the prime minister is making threats and giving instructions to the state attorney general to not prosecute them," she said, stressing that in a civilised EU country this would make the prime minister and the entire government fall.

"The legislature is not the one to decide who will be arrested, you mentioned here people by name and spoke about arrests, that is not the way to do things. You do not have the right to call on state institutions to arrest people, that is not your job," Jandroković said.

Dalija Orešković (Centre/GLAS), too, commented on the Office of the State Attorney General, stressing that in a healthy state, the chief state prosecutor does not listen to political instructions over the phone.

"We do not have a state because we do not have independent institutions," she said.

Milorad Pupovac of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) warned of a speech by an MP who after habitually spreading intolerance towards the Serb Orthodox Church and its members said, "We have reduced the Serbs to a tolerable number."

"The session chairman issued no warning and did not distance himself from that statement," Pupovac said, adding that "the 20th-century reductions of the historical minorities - Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Italians, Jews, Roma and Serbs - to tolerable numbers has made Croatia neither freer nor safer," the Serb MP said.

Marijan Pavliček (Croatian Sovereignists) criticised Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomašević for refusing to sponsor the Walk for Life event and refusing to have the organisers' flag displayed on city flagpoles, saying the mayor had privatised the city and marginalised those whose worldviews he did not share.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Foreign Minister: Finland and Sweden's NATO Aspirations Have Croatia's "Unreserved" Support

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Croatia's Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Wednesday that Finland and Sweden have Croatia's unreserved support for their NATO membership bids, adding that he has instructed Croatia's Ambassador to NATO to endorse the two countries' NATO applications.

"During an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin last weekend I said on behalf of the Croatian government that we give our unequivocal and unreserved support to those countries," Grlić Radman told Croatian Radio.

He recalled that because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the consequent reconfiguration in the global order, two traditionally neutral countries have decided to seek security in NATO which guarantees that security for its member states.

"They feel threatened and are welcome in the Alliance, considering their potential, they will strengthen NATO's democratic standards and overall potential (...). Croatia's Ambassador to NATO in Brussels, Mario Nobilo, has my instructions to approve Finland and Sweden's membership application and he will be given power of attorney to sign a protocol that will follow in the next few days," Grlić Radman said, adding that "some consultations with Turkey are still under way." 

Turkey has threatened to block Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO unless they fulfil Ankara's demands. Ankara wants the two countries to stop supporting terrorist groups, primarily the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and provide clear security guarantees as well as abolish restrictions on arms exports to Turkey.

Grlić Radman said that after their application is approved, the parliaments of NATO member states are required to ratify the relevant agreement.

"I am absolutely certain that the Croatian Sabor will ratify the agreement when it arrives from Brussels in Zagreb," he said.

Commenting on statements by President Zoran Milanović that Croatia should block the two countries' accession until such time that the election law in BiH is amended, Grlić Radman said that was "blackmail" and "un-European."

He added that the Andrej Plenković government is fighting the most for the status of the Croat people in that country.

"The rights of the Croat people are achieved through legal mechanisms, political and diplomatic efforts and not blackmail (...). The President is ruining our international reputation with his statements and causing political damage that can jeopardise our national interests," Grlić Radman added.

He reiterated that a stable BiH is a strategic interest for Croatia, underscoring that if the election law is not changed, a security problem could emerge in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the election.

"Being the smallest, the Croat people is trapped between Serb separatism and the hyper-unitarism of high-ranking Bosniaks," Grlić Radman said.

He believes that the visit by European Council President Charles Michel to Sarajevo on 21 and 22 May, who will "try to intercede," will be important.

Speaking about the sixth package of EU sanctions against Russia, Grlić Radman said that there are several countries who are opposed to an embargo on Russian oil imports due to their dependence on Russian energy products.

"The sanctions need to be felt in Russia itself and we are trying to eliminate all the negative effects that the sanctions could have on Europe's economy," he explained.

Commenting on Slovenia's possible blockade of Croatia's accession to the Schengen passport-free area, he said that he doesn't expect Slovenia "to spoil the plans."

"I hope there won't be a step backwards. We have had very good cooperation over the past two years with the Janša government. Croatia's accession to the Schengen Area is for the most part in the interest of Slovenian citizens. I am certain that we will find a common solution with our Slovenian friends," he underscored.

Asked about the fate of a Croatian citizen who joined the Ukrainian forces and has been captured by Russian troops, Grlić Radman said briefly, "It is our duty to return him home," and that the procedure requires "discretion."

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Dairy Farmers Say Farm Gate Price Insufficient to Cover Production Costs

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Milk producers on Wednesday reported about a meeting with the ministers of agriculture and finance, Marija Vučković and Zdravko Marić, at which they warned the ministers that the milk farm gate price was insufficient to cover production costs.

"The situation in the dairy sector is dramatic, if concrete action is not taken, we fear the sector will continue to collapse, dairy farms will continue to be closed, and the number of dairy cows will continue to fall, as will the quantity of milk produced," the Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HGK) said in a statement.

Igor Rešetar of the HGK Dairy Sector Committee says the Agriculture Ministry had done a lot in the past three years but not enough since dairy farms had been affected by crises on the global food and energy markets as well as by problems caused by the war in Ukraine.

Dairy sector representatives said that the farm gate price of milk had increased by 28% since June 2021 but that they received information from primary producers on a daily basis saying that their production costs had increased by more than 300%.

The farm gate price of milk should be increased because crop husbandry costs, which are also rising, will in the autumn affect cattle breeding and milk production, they said.

Dairy farmers also called for increasing subsidies, reducing VAT on dairy products as well as investment costs, etc.

Recalling the government support to the sector so far, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement that the government would continue providing comprehensive solutions and called on stakeholders in the dairy supply chain to invest additional effort in order to maintain the current production level.

The ministry also noted that work was underway on the adoption of a programme for the development of the national dairy sector in the period until 2030 with strategic goals, priorities and measures designed to make the sector stronger and more competitive.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

HDZ BiH Hit by Avalanche of Criticism, US Embassy Joins in

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - The Bosnian Croat HDZ BiH party has been strongly criticised over the fact that ministers from that party on Tuesday blocked the adoption of a decision on election financing, with the leading BiH Croat party resolutely dismissing the criticisms, including by the US Embassy in Sarajevo.

"Unprecedented public and media pressure on BiH Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda has culminated with an open call to violate the law. Such attempts can be described as an act of undermining the rule or law," the HDZ BiH said in a statement on Tuesday amid an avalanche of criticism over its attempt to block the implementation of 2 October general elections.

The BiH government on Tuesday held a conference call at which a proposal was made to finance the elections with slightly less than €6.5 million from budget reserves accumulated over previous years.

This fallback option was proposed by the Central Election Commission (SIP) because the budget for 2022, which was to have envisaged funds for elections, has not been adopted yet. 

Its budget has been obstructed for a year and a half by Bosnian Serb officials, but Serb and Bosniak government ministers were on Tuesday willing to support SIP's proposal.

The BiH Finance Ministry, however, described the proposal as unconstitutional, and the three HDZ BiH ministers on the government voted against.

Under the Council of Ministers rules of procedure, the government cannot make any decision unless at least one minister from all three constituent peoples votes for it.

Shortly after yesterday's government session, Bevanda issued a statement explaining that elections can be financed without the budget but not the way it had been proposed.

"Law and lawful conduct were evidently not a priority in proposing this decision," said Bevanda, who was fully supported by his HDZ BiH party.

Nevertheless, the HDZ BiH has suddenly found itself isolated because in addition to criticism of its ministers, almost all major Bosniak and Serb parties called for ensuring money for the elections, noting that their blockade must not be allowed.

The Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) was the most vocal in its criticism, saying the HDZ BiH is doing everything possible to prevent the October election because it is dissatisfied with the failure to reach agreement on changes to the election law.

The SDA called for prosecuting those responsible for blockades and urged the international community to intervene and impose a decision to ensure funds for the elections.

The US Embassy said in a Twitter post that the HDZ BiH's blocking election financing is irresponsible and unjustified.

It also noted that HDZ deputies in the state parliament were against the adoption of EU-required laws, which it said was contrary to their professed commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration.

Under the current election law, 19 May is the deadline by which the Council of Ministers must secure funds for the implementation of elections, and Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija said after the failed vote that an attempt was made to do it in a way that was not in line with the law.

"I call on all those in charge to continue with preparations for the implementation of elections in October 2022 and by the time SIP needs the money for elections, it will have it," said Tegeltija.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

HZZO to Cover Cost of Pregnancy Termination in Slovenia for Mirela Čavajda

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - The Croatian Health Insurance Agency (HZZO) will cover the cost of pregnancy termination for Mirela Čavajda in a hospital in Ljubljana.

The HZZO said this in a statement issued after earlier in the day the Jutarnji List daily reported that Čavajda would most probably not have the cost of her pregnancy termination abroad covered by the HZZO.

Čavajda is a woman six months into her pregnancy who who could not have her pregnancy terminated in Croatia despite the fetus's serious malformations.

Jutarnji List says is has learned from unofficial sources that Croatian doctors, even though they refuse to perform the procedure guaranteed by law, are also unwilling to put their refusal down in writing, and that hospitals have sent the HZZO notifications saying that Čavajda has been offered the necessary medical procedure - induced labour.

"Since she does not want that procedure but insists on pregnancy termination, the HZZO considers this to be a refusal of the medical service offered in Croatia, which makes it questionable if there are legal grounds for the HZZO to cover the cost of the medical service she will seek in Slovenia", the daily says.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Only 24 of 500 Government Bodies Provide Information on Advertising via Media

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - The Electronic Media Council (VEM) has confirmed that following its request, only 24 of some 500 government bodies, public institutions and legal entities whose majority owner is the state have submitted reports on their advertising via local media programmes in 2021.

Public institutions and legal entities have until 31 March every year to report to VEM on their advertisements published in the previous year, and post the relevant information on their web sites.

The response by public institutions was relatively poor, with 24 reports having been submitted by 31 March, while one was submitted after that deadline.

Of the institutions that submitted their reports, many submitted incomplete reports.

VEM nevertheless says that it is worthwhile noting that reports were submitted by the FINA financial agency, Ministry of Culture and Media, Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Croatian Employment Service, Agency for Vocational Education and Training, Agency for Medicinal Products and Medical Devices, and the Market Competition Agency.

Of the large public companies, reports were submitted, with subsequent numerous objections by the regulator, by Croatia Airlines, the forest management company Hrvatske Šume, Hrvatske Autoceste highway operator and the Croatian Lottery.

Reports were also submitted by the Vukovar Homeland War Memorial Centre, the national parks Paklenica, Risnjak and Krka, the State Archive in Pazin, and only one local government unit - the town of Ploče.

VEM says that the relatively small number of reports is due to the lack of fines for noncompliance with the recently adopted Electronic Media Act.

The Office of Information Ombudsman Zoran Pičuljan notes that financial transparency and  publication of information on how public funds are spent is a standard of transparent conduct and the fight against corruption.

This is an obligation both for media publishers and for public institutions paying for their services, the ombudsman says, noting that noncompliance violates not only the Electronic Media Act but also the Right to Access Information Act as well as the Local Government Act and the Budget Act.

The legislative framework is clear and well designed, but additional education effort is needed to ensure compliance with the legal obligations, he says.

The GONG nongovernmental organisation notes that the lack of clear rules and supervision of their implementation could lead to advertising by government bodies, public institutions and state-owned legal entities becoming a powerful tool for favouring individual media outlets in the awarding of public funds, which is conducive to censorship and results in uncritical media willing to work in the interest of their clients.

Croatian Journalists Association (HND) head Hrvoje Zovko says the HND had been warning for years of the problem, as stated in its proposals for the current Electronic Media Act, which were rejected.

He says this concerns the legal provision under which government entities as well as legal entities whose majority owner is the state are obliged to spend 15% of their annual amount intended for the advertising of their services or activities on advertisements in audiovisual or radio programmes of regional and local television and/or radio stations.

"That means that ministries and public companies like the HEP power provider use budget and public money for advertising via local radio and TV stations, and those decisions are usually discretionary, made most often by a political leader without any public tender. To make things worse, the public has no information whatsoever on what the money is spent on," Zovko adds, noting that public money should be directed to journalism in the public interest through transparent allocation mechanisms.

"Public sector advertising should be called by its real name - public support, and should be developed accordingly", he says.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

BiH: No Money for Elections Yet, HDZ Minister Says Exposed to Political Pressure

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Contrary to expectations, Bosnia and Herzegovina's government on Tuesday failed to adopt a decision to secure funds for the implementation of 2 October general elections, with Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda of the HDZ BiH saying an attempt was made to do it illegally by using political pressure.

The government held a conference call at which a proposal was made to finance the elections with budget reserves accumulated in previous years, which was a fallback option because the budget for 2022, which was to contain funds for the elections, has not been adopted yet due to political disputes in the country.

The adoption of the decision on securing funds for the elections was eventually blocked by ministers from the Croat HDZ BiH party while Serb and Bosniak ministers voted in favour.

Under the current election law, 19 May is the deadline by which the country's government, the Council of Ministers, must secure funds for the implementation of elections which the Central Election Commission (SIP) has estimated will cost more than €6.5 million.

The general election is expected to be held based on the country's existing election law after the failure of all attempts to change the law in order to secure the implementation of rulings of the BiH Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Their implementation was to have eliminated discrimination of voters in the election process based on their ethnicity or place of residence as well as secure the right for Croat voters to elect on their own Croat representatives to the BiH Presidency and the House of Peoples of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country's Bosniak-Croat entity.

Parties gathered around the Croatian National Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HNS BiH) maintain there are therefore no legal preconditions to implement the election results.

They have decided, however, to participate in the elections, hopeful that before October some sort of agreement on the election reform could be reached, a possibility the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has resolutely dismissed.

Immediately after SIP called the elections on 4 May, the BiH Council of Ministers was asked to secure funds for their implementation, a request openly supported by the Office of the High Representative, the United States and the most influential EU member countries.

In a separate statement issued after the vote at the Council of Ministers, Finance Minister Bevanda claimed money for the elections cannot be secured the way it was attempted on Tuesday.

"Law and lawful conduct were evidently not a priority in proposing this decision," Bevanda said, noting the proposal was a result of political pressure.

He accused SIP of "an unprecedented campaign of imputation and manipulation", an allusion to the fact that SIP has accused him of trying to obstruct the implementation of the elections and threatened to sue him.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Croatia Reports 773 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 Related Death

ZAGREB, 18 May 2022 - Croatia has recorded 773 new coronavirus cases and 1 COVID-related death in the past 24 hours, the national coronavirus response team reported on Wednesday.

Currently there are 3,902 active cases in the country and 1,526 people are self-isolating.

There are 326 hospitalised patients, 11 of whom are on ventilators.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic in Croatia, a total of 1,132,671 COVID cases have been registered and 15,945 people have died as a consequence. 

By Tuesday, 5,249,573 doses of a COVID vaccine had been administered, and 59.51% of the total population, or 70.78% of adults, had been vaccinated.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Promet Split Electric Buses Announced, E-ticketing from July 1, and Higher Ticket Prices?

May 18, 2022 - New Promet Split electric buses are in the plans, e-ticketing should finally kick off on July 1, but will bus transport become more expensive in Split?

As part of the European tour MAN #ElectrifyingEurope, the battery-electric city bus MAN Lion's City 12E arrived in Croatia, reports Dalmacija Danas

A short presentation was held at the Amphora Hotel in Žnjan as this bus could soon transport the people of Split. Namely, Split-based Promet will apply for tenders for EU funds, and the studies have been conducted for more than a year. Negotiations are also underway with HEP so that there are no problems with charging.

"For the last year, we have been working on a study to be ready when opening public calls for buses. This is the latest technology, and of course, we will go in that direction. We have renewed part of the fleet with the latest generation diesel buses; we will have a presentation of the e-ticketing system in about 15 days," said Miroslav Delić, director of Promet Split.

This bus can travel 300 km on a single charge, and it takes 3 to 3 and a half hours to charge the batteries. It costs 550,000 euros. The capacity is 35 seats, while the total number of seats (sitting and standing) is slightly more than 80. Under each seat, there are USB sockets.

"Six months ago, we started negotiations with HEP to strengthen the substation within our complex and substations at locations in the city where we plan to introduce lines so that buses can be charged at these turning points," Delić said.

This is a low-floor city bus, 12 meters long, with a capacity of 88 passengers. Specifically, this bus is fully electric, powered by batteries located on the bus's roof and a central electric motor located on the rear axle of the bus. Battery capacity is 480-kilowatt hours, which means that it would have a range of 250 to 300 km in some actual driving conditions. Furthermore, it is fully equipped with all units as in the classic diesel bus, from heating, cooling, and air conditioning. In addition, most of the parts are from the diesel bus so that in the event of maintenance, these costs would be lower," explained Zvonko Gabud, sales director of Man Hrvatska.

Seven hundred of these buses have been sold across Europe, and they could soon be seen on Croatian roads. You can see more photos of them at Dalmacija Danas.

E-ticketing will be used from July 1, too, and with the rising fuel prices, Promet Split ticket prices could also change, adds Dalmacija Danas.

Namely, the fuel cost for Promet Split jumped by 15 million kuna annually.

"The question is whether we can change the prices because we do not have a representative of the majority owner, so now the question we ask the commissioners - is it possible for the Assembly to make that decision?," said Delić.

It is possible that there will be no price increase but under one condition.

"At the annual level, the cost of fuel is higher by 15 million kuna, so the cost of fuel is no more than 30 million kuna, but 45 million kuna at the annual level.

The price could rise by 20 percent, but the question is how much cities and municipalities are willing to co-finance with their budget funds. The price of the ticket depends on it. The ticket does not have to become more expensive if cities and municipalities co-finance public transport," Delić concluded.

For more, check out our business section.

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