Friday, 5 May 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Serbia, Albania, Wages and Protests

May the 5th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had a visit from the Serbian Prime Minister and from the Albanian President, a desire for a new Labour Law with more flexibility, protests from healthcare staff and non-healthcare staff employed in hospitals for more recognition (and more money) for their work, and more.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic visits Zagreb

As Index reports, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic recently received Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic at Banski dvori, as HRT reported. At the aforementioned cabinet meeting, the Croatian Prime Minister was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Anja Simpraga, while the Serbian Prime Minister was accompanied by Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue Tomislav Zigmanov. The meeting was then followed by the fourth Great Assembly, organised by the Serbian National Council in Zagreb.

The SNV Grand Assembly gathered together numerous elected councilors and representatives of the Serbian national minority in Croatia from over 150 municipalities, cities and counties, over a thousand and a half of them to be more precise. In addition, the representatives of all relevant organisations of the Serbian community in Croatia and minority and human rights protection institutions were also present.

Brnabic spoke of the ''deep wounds'' left after the Homeland War and owing to historically tense Croatian-Serbian relations. She stated that relations between the two countries - one of which is an EU member state, a Eurozone country and part of the Schengen zone - and one which isn't any of the above, continue to be burdened by a multitude of difficult questions and a lack of trust. Despite that, significant progress is going to be made in that regard this year, according to her. 

Croatian Employers want Labour Law amendments and sit down to talk with Labour Minister Marin Piletic

The issues surrounding the increasing number of foreign (non-EU) workers arriving in Croatia coupled with Croatia's ongoing problems with a demographic crisis, an aging population and the mentality of not wanting to work has seen members of the Croatian Employers' Association (HUP) sit down with the labour minister.

Igor Skrgatic of HUP has clearly stated that previous amendments to the Labour Law have been unsatisfactory to employers and that much more flexibility is needed, as is a proper immigration strategy from MUP. Many deem the influx of foreign workers from non EU countries to be harmful to the Croatian workforce who have chosen to remain in the country, and that something needs to be done to prevent problems from spiralling out of control. More can be read about the meeting with Minister Marin Piletic here.

Croatian healthcare professionals protest once again, this time citing their dissatisfaction with Health Minister Vili Beros and their salaries

It hasn't been long since the last protest of healthcare professionals, primarily doctors, who stated their lack of satisfaction with current working conditions, salaries and expectations. Health Minister Vili Beros made a rather scandalous statement which totally missed the mark by claiming that ''most people protesting earn more than he does''. The fact that the Croatian healthcare system is in crisis is far from new information to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock, and most doctors protesting are just as concerned with the fact that patients are having to suffer these shortcomings just as much as they are.

Healthcare professionals and other employees from Dubrava Hospital (Zagreb) are the latest to protest, this time turning most of their attention on Beros himself, and looking more deeply at the state of wages.

The half-hour protest held on Wednesday demanded that the coefficients for medical workers in the public healthcare system who aren't doctors be increased by 10 percent.

"We'd like to express ourdissatisfaction with the behavioyr of Minister Vili Beros and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic towards those employees who aren't covered by the government decree. We're asking for a minimum 10 percent increase in the coefficients for all other healthcare workers who aren't doctors," said the president of the Independent Union of Health and Social Welfare of Croatia, Stjepan Topolnjak. He also stated that non-healthcare personnel in the system, from administrative workers to kitchen staff deserve "much higher wages than they currently take home for doing their jobs".

The protest in front of Dubrava Hospital on Wednesday was part of a wave of protests organised by the Croatian Professional Union of Nurses and Technicians (HSSMS-MT) and SSZSSH. The current level of dissatisfaction is caused by unequal increases in the coefficients in the healthcare system, Ivana Suton from the nurses' union pointed out, adding that last week the government increased the coefficient for doctors by 10 percent, while for others it was increased by just 3 to 5.4 percent.

"We consider an increase in the coefficient of 3 to 5 percent to be degrading," Suton pointed out. She stated that nurses, of whom there are more than 30,000 in the Croatian healthcare system, make up 47 percent of the total number of healthcare staff. "The work and contribution of nurses and technicians continues to go unrecognised, and it's unacceptable for nurses and technicians when differences in the healthcare system like this are created," she said. Ana Cudina also addressed the crowd present and said that healthcare and non-healthcare personnel are both seeking dignity and equality.

"The unions have been warning about deficiencies in the healthcare system for years now, they've demanded an increase in wages for all employees, appropriate working conditions for all, and above all 0 respect for the collective agreement," she told the crowd, adding that one group cannot be in a more favourable position than the others.

Another protest of healthcare (not doctors) and non healthcare workers has been announced for May the 12th, 2023.

Plenkovic claims that his government's aim is to increase wages

PM Andrej Plenkovic recently reiterated that the goal of the announced tax reform is tax relief for the most vulnerable and an increase in peoples' net salaries. "The idea is to financially relieve the most vulnerable among us, those who have the lowest salaries, and in this way we'll also increase the net salaries people take home with them," Plenkovic said after the recent session of the wider HDZ Presidency.

Once the package is completed, the first reading in parliament will take place before the summer break, and the second reading will take place in autumn in order for it all to come into effect on January the 1st, 2024, he announced. He noted that the government relieved both the public and the economy in several rounds of tax reforms by more than 11 billion kuna, as well as that the revenues of counties, cities and municipalities have increased by a total of 11 billion kuna since 2017.

He also emphasised the drop in the inflation rate, the reduction of the share of public debt in GDP, the upward revision of growth projections for this year, the surplus in the state budget for 2022, the maintenance of the investment credit rating, the growth of average wages to 1,100 euros net, and so on.

In response to the claim from the opposition that it was all a mere a pre-election move, Plenkovic replied that their entire rhetoric has been reduced to this for a year. "That theory is deeply ridiculous, especially when you see the consistency of our policies in terms of tax relief and in strengthening the fiscal and functional decentralisation of local self-government units," he said, adding that this narrative simply does not hold water.

At the beginning of June, Plenkovic has announced a large meeting with Croatian county prefects and expressed his belief that in the end they will all support legal changes that will enable higher salaries.

"It's important for us that the net salary increases, that's our goal," Plenkovic said.

"We want to reduce the workload and raise average wages. They've grown by 48 percent since back in 2016, so we'll have a dialogue, we'll hold a meeting with the county prefects. It will take place at the beginning of June. Everything will be specified and I believe that in the end everyone will support the legal changes that will provide people with higher wages," Plenkovic said.

The Albanian president pays a visit to Croatia

President Zoran Milanovic and his wife Sanja Music Milanovic recently welcomed the President of Albania Bajram Begaj and his wife Armanda Begaj to Zagreb.

For this occasion, the first lady of Croatia chose a fashion combination in the colours of the Albanian flag - a red shirt and jacket and black trousers, while Armanda arrived in Zagreb in a dark blue suit.

After meeting at Pantovcak, Sanja and Armanda visited the Oton Ivekovic exhibition, a retrospective at the Klovicevi dvori gallery with the professional guidance of the author of the exhibition. There, the first ladies readily posed for photographers.

Otherwise, Zoran Milanovic emphasised that the friendship between Croatia and Albania is "now a deeply established fact", while Begaj said that the relations between Albanians and Croats are "traditionally of high quality and friendly" and at a "historical maximum".


For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section. A dedicated Week in Croatian Politics article is also published every Friday.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Oleg Butkovic Proposes Croatia-Albania Ferry Line Between Zadar and Durres

July the 18th, 2021 - Maritime Affairs Minister Oleg Butkovic has been in nearby Albania recently, more precisely in Tirana, where the suggestion to introduce a Croatia-Albania ferry line between the Croatian port of Zadar and the Albanian port of Durres was proposed.

As Morski writes, earlier this week, Minister Oleg Butkovic paid an official visit to the Republic of Albania, where he met with Belinda Belluku, Minister of Infrastructure and Energy of the Republic of Albania, and Blendi Klosi, Minister of Tourism and Environmental Protection.

At the meeting with the Minister of Infrastructure and Energy, all key issues of transport connectivity, the importance of Albania's inclusion in pan-European corridors, the possibility of transferring Croatian experience and knowledge from the EU integration process and in the field of transport were opened up.

Minister Butkovic pointed out that the cooperation of all countries on the traffic in the Adriatic-Ionian corridor is necessary, especially in the technical part of the development of future routes. Such cooperation includes technical assistance related to a better understanding of European policies in regard to transport and infrastructure, but also better use of EU funds.

Speaking about her ministry's plans and the need to rebuild Albania's railway network, Minister Balluku emphasised Albania's interest in further training staff in the area. In addition, the Minister announced that the Albanian side has provided funds for the construction of the Albanian section of the corridor and that it's realistic to expect that work on the project will begin in the spring of next year, and the estimated deadline for construction is three years.

Traffic connections between Croatia and Albania, a chance for a Croatia-Albania ferry line introduction?

Minister Butkovic emphasised the need for alternative solutions for connections between the two nearby nations. In this regard, it has been proposed to form a working group that will work on the preparation of the agreement and the establishment of a direct air route between Tirana and Zagreb, and that isn't all.

The establishment of a Croatia-Albania ferry line is in the interest of both sides, and the Croatian side proposed the establishment of the Zadar-Durres ferry line, and on that topic a meeting and tour of the port of Durres was held, where talks were held with representatives of the port, all of whom are also interested in expanding its capacity by connecting with neighbouring countries.

Assistance to the Albanians in solving the problem of marine waste

At a meeting with Minister of Tourism and Environmental Protection Blendi Klosi, Minister Butkovic proposed the launch of measures and activities to prevent potential marine pollution by marine waste in cooperation with Croatia, Montenegro and Albania.

On top of that, the possibility of developing programmes was also discussed. Through such programmes, the Croatian side would provide additional professional and technical assistance in resolving the issue of marine waste from land and vessels generated in Albania, as well as the development of projects aimed at strengthening administrative capacity in this important segment.

For more, follow our travel section.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Foreign Minister Grlić Radman For Opening EU Entry Talks With N. Macedonia, Albania as Soon as Possible

ZAGREB, 22 June, 2021 - North Macedonia and Albania have met all the criteria to open EU accession negotiations as soon as possible and Kosovo deserves visa liberalisation, Croatia's Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Tuesday in Luxembourg.

"Albania and North Macedonia have met all the criteria and we believe that accession negotiations should be opened with them as soon as possible," said Grlić Radman upo arriving in Luxembourg for a General Affairs Council meeting.

The General Affairs Council is composed of foreign or European affairs ministers of the member states. They convened today to discuss preparations for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday on migration, enlargement and the stabilisation and association process.  Furthermore, the Portuguese presidency will inform the EU ministers about the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

One of the more important topics to be debated within Article 7 is the rule of law in Hungary and Poland.

Accession intergovernmental conferences with Serbia and Montenegro will be held on the margins of today's meeting, but without opening or closing any policy chapters. So-called political intergovernmental conferences are a new approach in the accession process.

Agreement still has not been reached to open negotiations with North Macedonia due to objections by Bulgaria and no progress is expected before elections in Bulgaria scheduled for next month.

There are no blockades regarding Albania, however some countries do not wish to separate the issue of opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.

Grlić Radman that Croatia supports the motion for liberalising the visa regime for Kosovo as soon as possible.

Croatia would like talks on candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be launched as soon as possible too, said Grlić Radman and once again underscored the need for the election law in that country to be changed so that it ensures the equality of all three constitutent peoples.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Croatian Software Helping in Earthquake-Stricken Albania

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Bernard Ivezic writes on the 1st of December, 2019, the Croatian software company GDi Group has assembled an international consortium comprising the US corporation ESRI and the German satellite company European Space Imaging, and in Albania, in coordination with the government there, the software is assisting local authorities in Durres in its search and rescue operation.

The company's engagement is free, which makes the action launched by the Croatian software company GDi the largest CSR project that a Croatian company has done on a global level.

Durres, an Albanian city on the Adriatic coast 300 kilometres from Croatia's southernmost city of Dubrovnik, was hit by two terrible earthquakes in the early hours of Tuesday, November the 26th, after which ground tremors continued and were felt throughout Dalmatia. So far, more than 500 minor earthquakes have been reported.

The Albanian earthquake has claimed 50 lives so far and 790 people were injured to some extent or another. The UN has sent its team to Albania, and Andrej Lončarić, a board member of the Croatian software company GDi, who is coordinating the action with colleagues from Tirana and Zagreb, says they have donated geoinformatics (GIS) applications.

"Our team of seven people in Tirana and Zagreb, together with partners, is working with teams out in the field to give those affected and their rescuers a better overview of the current situation," says Lončarić.

With the help of American and German companies mentioned above, the Croatian software company GDi has created fresh maps of Albania. The first donated application, "Sherbimet per Ndihmen e Shpejte" (Emergency Services), is a map of the nearest hospitals and emergency services. It is being updated in coordination with the local authorities there and is currently being claimed to be more relevant source of information than Google Maps itself.

The second application "Raporto Demet nga Termeti 26 Nentor 2019" (Earthquake Damage Report) is a claim form. Citizens can immediately send photos of structures, mark a location on the map, leave contact information and other information.

"The applications are not commercial and branded, they are in Albanian,'' says GDi's Andrej Lončarić, explaining that the apps work on all smartphones and that their promotion via social media has been extremely helpful.

He states that in the first application, in cooperation with the Albanian authorities, they entered more than 40 locations of hospitals and emergency services, while in the second, 864 claims were filed by the citizens themselves by Sunday. This second application, which operates on the principle of crowdsourcing, has also become the most complete source for the current state of damage in Durres and the surrounding area and is used by local services and the Albanian Government.

They also created a third donated app, a dashboard that gives a macro view of all logins and statuses in the field, to evaluate further actions, such as whether reportedly damaged structures will be able to be repaired or will have to be demolished. Lončarić says the action is still ongoing, they're adding other applications for which there is a need, such as their fourth application, a kind of digital cartographic picture book "Evidento Dëmet nga Tërmeti" (Earthquake damage viewer), where the situation before and after the earthquake can be seen, and where the damaged structures are marked clearly with red dots.

In Croatia, the civil protection of the Republic of Croatia, the Office for Emergency Situations in Zagreb, firefighters and other such services already have such software capabilities.

In 2014, this Croatian software company created a similar application donation action in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia when floods caused enormous issues, and during summer in Dalmatia when a series of devastating fires broke out. Similar help in the digital world is provided by the Giscloud company in Zagreb, which, in Fiji, helped a non-profit organisation optimise their donations of water filters through the mapping of drinking water sources.

The number of Croatian companies and entrepreneurs working to address the serious problems facing communities around the world has increased in recent years.

From Nenad Bakić, who, through IRIM, encourages the development of STEM education in Croatia and throughout the region, through the ACT Group and Brodot who support social entrepreneurs, to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs in the area, who, in addition to profitability, care about the impact their products and services will have on the community.

Make sure to follow our dedicated Made in Croatia page for much more.