Wednesday, 27 October 2021

PM Says Minimum Wage to Increase by HRK 350 as of January

ZAGREB, 27 Oct 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced on Wednesday in the parliament that the minimum net wage would increase by HRK 350 or 10.3% as of January, from HRK 3,400 to HRK 3,750, that is to €500.

The government would pass the decision on Thursday, the prime minister said, submitting to the parliament the annual report on the work of the government.

He underscored that the government was raising the minimum wage for the first time to more than 50% of the average net salary and to over 60% of the median net salary, which would impact 51,000 workers.

Five years ago, he recalled, the minimum salary was 38% of the average salary.

The prime minister also said that the number of employed persons was higher by 51,000 than last year and that it had reached 1.6 million employed persons, which was to date the highest number in August after the record 2008 and the second-highest since independence.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

The unemployment rate, which stood at 13.3% five years ago, declined in August to 7.3%, he said, adding that this was the result of active employment policy measures, in which about HRK 5.5 billion had been invested over five years, encompassing 165,000 persons.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 25 October 2021

PM Says Croatia Owes Rudolf Perešin Eternal Gratitude and Respect

ZAGREB, 25 Oct 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Monday received Ljerka Perešin, the widow of the legendary Croatian pilot, Brigadier Rudolf Perešin, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his flight with a Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) MiG-21 fighter jet from Bihać to Austria.

On 25 October 1991, Perešin, a Croat, defected from the JNA from Bihać to Klagenfurt and joined the Croatian Army. His plane was returned from Austria to Croatia in 2019 owing to the efforts of former defense minister Damir Krstičević and Croatia's diplomacy.

Perešin is known for his statement in Klagenfurt: "I'm a Croat and I cannot shoot at Croats!" which reflected the feeling of unity and strength among the Croatian people who were doing their best to make the dream of a free and independent Croatia come true.

Eternal thanks to Perešin for his heroism and sacrifice for the homeland

Prime Minister Plenković thanked the Perešin family for their courage, strength, and patriotism and for Rudolf's sacrifice. Perešin lost his life during the 1995 Flash military and police operation when Croatia's forces liberated areas in Western Slavonia.

Plenković said that it is up to all of us to nurture the lasting memory of Homeland War heroes and to ensure dignity for Croatian veterans and their families. It is particularly important for younger generations to foster the memory of Homeland War heroes like Rudolf Perešin was.

"We owe our eternal gratitude and respect to Rudolf Perešin, who showed courage, love, and loyalty towards the homeland and made the greatest sacrifice for its freedom," said the Prime Minister.

For more, follow our politics section.

Saturday, 23 October 2021

PM on Visa Cancellation: Strategic Goal Achieved to the Benefit of Croatian Citizens

ZAGREB, 23 Oct, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović have welcomed the fact that Croatians can travel to the United States without visas as of Saturday, 23 October.

"As of today, Croatians can travel to the USA without visas!" Plenković said in a Twitter post.

"We have met the necessary criteria and achieved a strategic goal to the benefit of Croatian citizens," Plenković said.

"We are opening a new chapter in our relations, strengthening our partnership and creating preconditions for closer economic cooperation and investments," the PM said.

As of 23 October Croatians can travel to the United States for business or tourism purposes without visas, after obtaining approval via the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, the US Embassy in Zagreb said.

Croatia has entered the Visa Waiver Programme, a comprehensive security partnership between the United States and participating countries that enables travel to the USA for business or tourism purposes in the duration of up to 90 days, with national security being protected in the process.

For a country to enter the VWP, it must meet criteria regarding the fight against terrorism, law enforcement, immigration, document security and border management, and the percentage of rejected visa applications must be below 3%, which Croatia met only recently.

Application via ESTA is possible any time before travel but the US Homeland Security Department recommends that travellers apply as soon as possible, and 72 hours before travel at the latest, the US Embassy says.

Božinović: Visa cancellation major acknowledgement for Croatia

The cancellation of visa requirements for Croatians travelling to the USA is a major acknowledgement for Croatia, Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said on Saturday after talks with the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Mark Fleming.

Božinović thanked the US Embassy for playing an important role in "moments that were very important" for Croatia, such as its accession to the EU and NATO.

He recalled "the hard work on the cancellation of visa requirements over the past few years", including the connecting of data bases, cooperation with the Homeland Security Department and with agencies in charge of fighting terrorism and organised crime, etc.

This is a very good day for US-Croatian relations, Fleming said.

We want more Croatians in the United States, he added.

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Thursday, 21 October 2021

Electricity and Gas Prices Won't Go Up Until Heating Season Ends, Says Prime Minister

ZAGREB, 21 Oct 2021 - Electricity and gas prices for Croatian households and "a huge share" of businesses will not increase until the end of the heating season early in April, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday.

The only ones that could feel the increase are businesses that did not have long- but short-term gas supply contracts, he added.

He was speaking to the press in Brussels as he arrived at an EU summit that will discuss the surge in fuel prices, among other things.

Plenković said the government had various tools at its disposal that it would use depending on developments with energy prices.

For now, the government has limited the maximum prices of petrol and diesel. "Thereby we stabilized expectations over the next month to see how the situation with oil prices will develop and in that way cushion any blow to households."

He said that after the government's abundant help to businesses during the pandemic and now that conditions had been created for the economy to rebound strongly, he did not wish living standards to be in jeopardy.

Rule of law

The EU summit will also address the rule of law after the Polish Constitutional Court found that in some elements national law is above European law, which was roundly criticized in the EU.

Plenković said it was necessary to first hear out Polish Prime Minister Mazeusz Morawiecki, who sent a memo to all member states' leaders, explaining what the court really decided.

"It's important that the EU does not divide because in times of crisis it's good for it to be as homogeneous as possible. But, on the other hand, when we were entering the EU, we too had to change our constitution quite a lot in order to align with the European legal order. Therefore our position is that we should honor all that we agreed to when we entered the EU."

The summit will also address the COVID situation, foreign relations, migration, trade, and the digital society.

Plenković said the situation in Croatia's neighborhood would be discussed tonight as a continuation of the EU-Western Balkans summit held earlier this month.

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

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Milanović Says Plenković Should Rein Defence Minister In

ZAGREB, 21 Oct 2021 - President Zoran Milanović said on Thursday that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković should "rein his pal in", a reference to Defence Minister Mario Banožić and his decision to send into retirement the commander of the Honor Guard Battalion, Brigadier Elvis Burčul.

Speaking to reporters in Baćin, where he attended the 30th anniversary of the plight of local residents in the 1991-95 war, Milanović said that PM Plenković was the minister's "political guardian" and that he was not in conflict with Banožić over Burčul's retirement but that he would guarantee the army protection against "bullying and harassment."

"The minister is not relevant here. This is an immoral, serious abuse of legal authority to which I can respond with much bigger power. But where does that lead? The guardian should rein in his pal, who is a man without political autonomy. This has to do with the Prime Minister... and that can be proven easily," Milanović said.

In that context, he mentioned a state secretary in the government who was an active general, noting that he should have already sent him into retirement but did not do it because he felt sorry for him and waited for Plenković's decision.

"I want it done right away, otherwise I will have to do it. I warned Plenković of that because Banožić does not make any decisions anyway."

Milanović noted that an active serviceman cannot be a member of a political government.

Asked about the motive for Burčul's retirement, Milanović said: "A personal vendetta."

I want Burčul back and for him to retire in a dignified way

He noted that the Honor Guard Battalion was in charge of his security.

"And the minister dares harass such a person (Burčul). I want him back at work and I want him to retire in a dignified way," he said.

He noted that the extension of Burčul's term had been requested due to the requirements of the post, for the sake of transfer of duties and appointment of a new, younger commander as well as to enable Burčul to retire in a year and a half in a dignified way, instead of "being harassed by a person who until yesterday was a political nobody."

"That cannot pass, otherwise I will start acting the same way, but not towards the army," he said.

Milanović noted that the legal regulation under which the minister made the decision about Burčul's retirement was unconstitutional.

"The President of the Republic is the Commander-in-Chief, the minister is not, there is no mention about the minister in the Constitution. The minister has very extensive powers which in my opinion by far exceed the spirit and message of the Constitution - they decide about people's destinies during their term... If you rub them the wrong way, you can end up paying for it dearly," he said.

Milanović said that given that the budget was being adopted, he would on Friday request a meeting of the Defence Council due to the worrying financial situation in the army, noting that he believed Plenković would "delay the meeting, too, just as he makes an ordeal of everything, including the appointment of the Supreme Court president."

Asked if Burčul's retirement could be Plenković's revenge for the Supreme Court president, he said that it was possible.

"But that's futile, I can always respond in kind or worse in some cases," he said, mentioning in that context the appointment of new diplomats.

If you have not got vaccinated, you only have yourselves to blame

Commenting on the vaccination campaign and the potential expansion of the use of COVID-19 certificates, Milanović said that people in charge of making those decisions did not have a way to motivate people to get vaccinated "apart from using repression and nagging them."

"This is October 2021, those who have not got vaccinated have only themselves to blame," he said.

Milanović noted that it was possible he would receive a third shot but would have to check the level of antibodies first.

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

Thursday, 21 October 2021

PM Warns of Growing Number of Coronavirus Cases in Croatia

ZAGREB, 21 Oct 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Thursday warned of the growing number of coronavirus cases in Croatia, saying that the death toll would soon exceed 9,000 and stressing the importance of vaccination and compliance with epidemiological measures.

"We must comply with the basic protection measures - wearing a face mask, keeping a distance, airing the premises, and maintaining hand hygiene," Plenković said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

He stressed the importance and necessity of vaccination, especially for elderly people, noting that the elderly are at greater risk if they contract COVID-19. "One in four elderly persons aged 65 and over have not been vaccinated yet, and we are talking about 238,000 persons or about 25-27 percent."

Plenković warned that the COVID-19 death toll will soon exceed 9,000. "This is a high price we are paying as a nation and society. But now we have vaccines, and there is no reason for this number to be so high," the prime minister said, adding that the vaccines also effectively protect against serious forms of the disease.

He appealed to people who have still not been vaccinated to get vaccinated, citing the views of medical professionals and the government's Scientific Council as well as statistics.

74 percent of hospitalized COVID patients not vaccinated

Plenković said that 74 percent of infected people who have been hospitalized this month were not vaccinated, which is three in four patients, while 80 percent of patients who were or still are on ventilators were not vaccinated, which is four in five.

"These are very clear and convincing figures," Plenković said, noting that 93 percent of the people who died from coronavirus were above the age of 60 and 98 percent were above the age of 50.

He said that the Scientific Council, which met two days ago, stressed the importance of vaccination, especially for the elderly.

"We all agree with the view of the Croatian Public Health Institute on a third dose, that it should be administered to immunocompromised persons and to health and welfare workers because it will help in the fight against the epidemic," the prime minister said.

He said that the situation in Croatia is similar to the rest of the world. "The unvaccinated people represent a pool where the virus spreads the most and where mutations occur the most. It's a fact that vaccinated people can also transmit the virus, but that is less likely than among the unvaccinated, and in the case of infection the disease is much milder."

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

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Plenković Says Intraparty Elections in HDZ Democratic, Transparent

ZAGREB, 17 Oct, 2021 - Prime Minister and HDZ party leader Andrej Plenković said on Sunday that intraparty elections at which the leaders of the HDZ's city and county branches will be elected, were democratic and transparent.

"Anyone who wanted to run as a candidate could do so, and the process has been transparent and democratic. I do not see any relevant objections or anything that is not in line with democratic standards," said Plenković, who cast his vote in regular intraparty elections.

He expressed hope that local HDZ branches, which are to elect their presidents and vice-presidents today, would contribute to their local communities as well as the HDZ's national policy.

HNB governor should explain his statement about loan installment increase

Plenković was also asked to comment on Croatian National Bank (HNB) Governor Boris Vujčić's warning in an interview with the Novi List daily that loan installments of debtors with long-term loans approved with a variable interest rate could increase from 10% to as much as 20%. Vujčić did, however, note that that scenario was not very likely.

"I have not read the interview, he should explain what he meant. As far as I understand, that is not a very likely scenario. If he has an opinion on the matter, he should make a statement," Plenković said.

In a comment on the International Day to Eradicate Poverty, which is observed today, Plenković said that the government's national development strategy stated that maximum effort should be invested to reduce the number of Croatians who were at risk of poverty or were poor.

"The 20% rate is still very high, as an EU country we must reduce it, not only through social policy but through a policy that enables wage growth and a general atmosphere of equal opportunities," he said, adding that his government would continue working towards that goal in the next three years.

Plenković believes that the progress made in the past five years in the fight against poverty is visible, albeit not as great as one would want it to be.

He wondered what the percentage of people at risk of poverty would be if the government had not intervened with job-keeping measures during the coronavirus crisis.

Asked about the investigation into police violence against migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Plenković reiterated that the case was contrary to the government and Ministry of the Interior's policy, that it was an isolated incident and that the government would do its best to prevent any similar incidents.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

Milanović: You Won’t Hear Me Say That HDZ Is a Criminal Organisation

ZAGREB, 16 Oct, 2021 - President Zoran Milanović said on Saturday that he did not consider today's HDZ to be a criminal organisation due to the Supreme Court's ruling in the Fimi Media case, but he noted that PM Andrej Plenković's statement, in which he linked the ruling with Milanović's rhetoric, was "silly".

"I think that it is irresponsible to link the ruling, whereby the Supreme Court actually upheld a lower court's ruling, with my statements. The idea that my rhetoric had influence on the Supreme Court's decision is silly," he told reporters during a visit to Samobor, a town west of Zagreb, where he attended a ceremony marking the town's day.

The Supreme Court last Wednesday partly upheld the verdict following the retrial in the Fimi Media corruption case, under which the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was fined HRK 3.5 million while the former PM and HDZ chief Ivo Sanader had his prison sentence cut from eight to seven years.

Sanader and his co-defendants were charged with siphoning around HRK 70 million (€9.3 million) from state-owned companies and institutions through the Fimi Media marketing agency into the HDZ's slush funds from 2004 to 2009.

Commenting on Plenković's statement of Friday, Milanović said that he had indeed criticised the Supreme Court but that Plenković had confused the cause with the consequence.

Plenković on Friday said, among other things, that he did not know if some judges worked under the pressure of Milanović's rhetoric.

"And then the Supreme Court does what? It takes revenge on the HDZ by listening to me, who had criticised it. I think such statements are for the Logic Olympiad," Milanović said.

He noted that he did not consider Plenković responsible for crime in the HDZ and did not claim that today's HDZ was a criminal organisation.

"You won't hear me say that the HDZ is a criminal organisation. Not all people there are clean today, but today's HDZ has that, too, in its past. Just as the SDP has in its past the fact that it is the successor to the Communist Party," he said, adding that those things should be left to the past and that new people were emerging and answering to voters.

He said that he had been the first in the country to raise the issue of criminal liability of legal entities.

"There was a law from 2003 which envisaged for the first time that kind of legal responsibility. I raised that issue in the parliament, I was not Prime Minister at the time, and, to my surprise, the Public State Attorney launched the procedure and the (Fimi Media) ruling is a result of that. So in a way, I am responsible for the ruling," he said.

Protesters should not rally outside office-holders' homes

Asked to comment on protests held outside the homes of members of the national coronavirus management team, Milanović said that protesters should not do that.

"They are free to disagree with what those people do, but to protest now, after a year and half? They could have done it earlier if they had objections, and they should especially not be doing it outside (COVID-19 response team's members') homes because that way they disturb their neighbours," Milanović said, calling on the protesters to end the protests.

Speaking about the prosecution of crimes committed in the 1991-95 Homeland War, Milanović said that the Croatian judiciary had done its best, notably with regard to the prosecution of members of the aggressor forces.

"Evidently some things are no longer possible due to the passage of time. I am sure the Croatian judiciary does not have an agenda to help the enemy. There are real limitations regarding time, place and facts. I am not satisfied, but on the other hand, a lot has been done so I can say that I am also satisfied," he said.

We have no relations with Belgrade and Serbia

As for people gone missing in the war, Milanović said that Belgrade was familiar with the destiny of close to 2,000 missing persons.

"We will insist on that, we won't let the matter rest just like that," he said, adding that Croatia currently has no relations with Belgrade.

"Relations with all the others are good or very good, they are not good only with Belgrade and those currently in power there," he said.

Milanović announced that he would attend this year's commemoration of the fall of the eastern city of Vukovar.

"This year is different, last year the way things were organised was wrong," he said.

He welcomed the government's decision to limit fuel prices but noted that it would cost.

"The government has the instruments, naturally all of that costs, and one should be aware that producers and distributors who have fixed costs will have to be compensated somehow," he said, estimating that prices of energy products should go down in a few months.

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

Strategy Envisages €7.5 Billion of Investments in Agriculture in Next 10 Years

ZAGREB, 16 Oct, 2021 - Agriculture and the energy industry are the two main sectors enabling each society and state to function normally, and therefore in the next decade, €7.5 billion will be invested in the agricultural sector, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Zagreb on Saturday.

Addressing an Agriculture Ministry event dedicated to promoting farming, fisheries and forestry, the Prime Minister said that his cabinet spared no effort to help agricultural producers, the food and timber industries and the fisheries.

The government has sent to the parliament a draft strategy on agriculture, and the document, which should be adopted this year, envisages investments in agriculture of some €7.5 billion in the next decade, which should help the Croatian agricultural sector to reach the target of HRK 30 billion (€4 billion) of annual production.

During the term of this government, over a score of state aid schemes have been designed and mostly implemented, and their value is estimated at €253 million, provided from the state budget, Plenković said, recalling prompt interventions to address market disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis and natural disasters.

In the livestock sector, nine measures and schemes are being implemented in response to problems caused by the COVID-19 crisis, and HRK 450 million has been made available as part of the government's aid schemes, he said, adding that an HRK 163.5 million scheme is in the pipeline to help businesses affected by fodder price rises.

From 2016 to 2019, state grants amounted to HRK 11.1 billion, and in 2020, HRK 3.2 billion was disbursed as state aid, the PM said.

The Rural Development Programme has made HRK 22.8 billion available to beneficiaries, and of that amount 18 billion has been contracted, and 13.8 billion has been disbursed for investments in agriculture, the PM told the event.

The fisheries branch has been provided with HRK 2.3 billion in grants within the Operational Programme for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and to date more than 1.2 billion has been disbursed.

Plenković went on to say that the government has increased outlays for investments in food safety and the National Recovery and Resilience Plan envisages the provision of infrastructure for a food bank and for participants in the food donation chain. This is one of the important reforms, worth HRK 32 million, he said.

Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković said that the aim of the strategy would be to increase the output in the agricultural sector to HRK 30 billion annually until 2030.

The implementation of the strategy will require €7.5 billion, and the government plans allocations for this purpose in the amount of five billion euros until 2027 through the multiannual financial framework, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan and the state budget, she explained.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

PM: Protests Outside COVID-19 Response Team’s Members’ Homes a Show

ZAGREB, 16 Oct, 2021 - In a comment on protests held outside the homes of members of the national coronavirus crisis management team, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday that such shows were unnecessary as the government was acting responsibly in the coronavirus crisis.

"All those shows... are unnecessary because the government has acted reasonably, responsibly, appropriately and sensitively with regard to all possible segments of state functioning in the 600 days of the pandemic; other countries had months-long lockdowns," the PM said after a conference on agriculture, fisheries and forestry in Zagreb.

Noting that in Croatia there was a ban only on large gatherings and the work of night clubs, Plenković said that the protests did not seem rational, speculating if their real purpose was to generate social unrest.

About a dozen citizens gathered outside Health Minister Vili Beroš's home on Thursday evening after a Religious Instruction teacher from Križevci called on them to do so on his Facebook profile due to restrictions on visits to hospitalised children.

Beroš said that he understood their dissatisfaction, but that the place for dealing with such matters should be the Health Ministry.

Another group of protesters on Friday protested outside the home of the head of Zagreb's Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Alemka Markotić.

Asked if the situation could escalate and if members of the coronavirus crisis management team were under police protection since more protests had been announced, Plenković said that as far as he was aware, they were not.

Should someone resort to violence, they will be given police protection, he said, recalling that until the October 2020 terrorist attack "we had been very easy to approach."

"We are a normal, small Central European and Mediterranean country, civilised, warm, and we are good hosts... There are, on occasion, violent individuals but the Croatian people in general are not violent. These are exceptions. I call on them to calm down and be reasonable, there is no reason for drama, there are much worse situations than this," he said.

Asked about a possible parliamentary vote of no confidence in Finance Minister Zdravko Marić, Plenković said that no opposition motion questioning the government's work had been successful so far and neither would the latest one.

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