Monday, 16 May 2022

Const. Court President Calls On Everyone to Respect Court Decisions

ZAGREB, 16 May 2022 - Constitutional Court Chief Justice Miroslav Šeparović said on Monday that the court's decision on the Bridge party's referendum initiative related to COVID crisis management was not the defeat of that court, and called on everyone advocating the rule of law to respect court decisions.

"This is by no means the Constitutional Court's defeat but it is in line with what the Constitution envisages and that is for the Constitutional Court to decide if a referendum question is in line with the Constitution. I call on everyone who advocates the rule of law to respect the court's decisions. Referendum initiatives are legitimate and for signatures to be collected but the Constitution says that the Constitutional Court decides on constitutionality," underscored Šeparović.

Šeparović said that it was only the Bridge that was trying to exert pressure through the media on this judicial institution and neither the ruling parties nor the opposition tried to pressurize the court. The court president underscored that pressure can never bring any results.

"The court delivered its ruling within the prescribed deadline of 30 days," he added, in reference to the Bridge's accusations that the court failed to hand down the rulings within the timeframes.

"The stories about politicking are old and always come to the fore when someone is not satisfied with a court decision," he added.

Šeparović explained that the Bridge party did not tell citizens exactly what would happen if the referendum managed to amend the Constitution the way the party had requested.

"They probably went toward legitimate political objectives, but they went about it in the wrong way." 

"They claimed that if the Constitution were to be amended the way they wanted then the parliament would have to decide by a two-third majority but they also kept the word that it 'could.' As such, nothing would have changed with the proposed constitutional amendment which in itself is not contrary to the Constitution but is contrary to the rule of law because you cannot tell citizens to go to a referendum and amend the Constitution, but there is no point to do so because the Sabor will not have to decide by a two-thirds majority," said Šeparović.

Šeparović did not wish to speculate why the Bridge launched the referendum initiative and whether they had sought advice in that regard. "They probably had legitimate political objectives but went about it the wrong way," he said.

Šeparović on plans for new law on abortion

Asked whether the right to abortion should be in the Constitution, Šeparović said that the Constitutional Court never gives its opinion in advance or whether something be inscribed in the law or the Constitution as that is a matter for the law-making authorities.

"The Constitution Court assessed that the existing law (on the termination of pregnancy) is in line with the Constitution. As such, there is no legal ban on pregnancy termination and there is no referendum on that issue. Whether the creator of the Constitution wishes to change something is a matter for the legislature and the Constitutional Court will not enter into that. We have said that a new law needs to be adopted, for preventative education to be regulated and for pregnancy termination to be an exception. The Sabor has not respected that and that isn't just undermining the Constitutional Court's authority but also infringe the rule of law," said Šeparović.

"I expect the government to make a recommendation and for the Sabor to adopt a new law on pregnancy termination."

He added that he still expects the Sabor to adopt a new law as ordered by the Constitutional Court and claimed that that was sending a bad message to citizens.

''If the Sabor does not respect the court's decisions how can we expect citizens to. The Constitutional Court does not have the means to make the Sabor adopt a new law. The strongest weapon the court has is to abolish the existing law and determine a deadline when that law would no longer be in effect. In this case, we did not establish that the law was unconstitutional but we did order the Sabor to replace the outdated law which had several problems and for it to be amended and a new law to be passed," said he.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Hina Notifies Parliament, HND of Pressure Exerted by Bridge MP On Its Reporter

ZAGREB, 16 May 2022 - Hina's director-general Branka Gabriela Vojvodić on Monday notified the national parliament and the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) of pressure exerted by Marija Selak Raspudić, a parliamentary deputy of the Bridge party, on a Hina reporter in the parliament's press room recently.

During the incident, which was provoked by the dissatisfaction of the opposition Bridge party with a news item that Hina published last Friday on the motions sponsored by the Opposition which were not supported by the ruling majority,  Bridge parliamentarian Nikola Grmoja was first to enter the press room and criticized Hina's journalists, finding fault with their work and how they covered the activities of his colleague, Marija Selak Raspudić.

After that, MP Selak Raspudić entered the press room and accused in an inappropriate manner Hina and its reporter of having intentionally censored her and abused her.

The parliamentary deputy was also dissatisfied that Hina did not make it clear in its reports every time she was first to open discussions in the parliament.

"Having in mind the fact that Hina reporters covering the activities in the national parliament and in other state institutions are not there to quote in the entirety all that is said by any of politicians and office-holders and that their duty is primarily to inform the public of what they find the most important, I consider that the behavior of parliamentary deputy Selak Raspudić amounts to the violation of the right to free reporting by journalists," says Vojvodić.

She calls on the HND as the professional association, and the parliament as the institution where the incident took place, to condemn the behavior of MP Selak Raspudić in this case and any similar potential behavior of politicians towards Hina reporters and reporters of other media outlets.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Constitutional Court Says Bridge's Referendum Questions Unconstitutional

ZAGREB, 16 May 2022 - The Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that the questions in the two referendum petitions launched by the opposition Bridge party - to abolish mandatory COVID passes and transfer the powers of the national COVID response team to Parliament - were not in line with the Constitution.

The decision on the first question was passed by three votes against and the decision on the second question by one vote against.

The court found that the first question was not in line with the rule of law because it does not meet the requirement of "reasonable purposefulness and effectiveness of the referendum."

The second petition called for the adoption of an act to amend the Protection against Infectious Diseases Act to ensure that any measures restricting rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution are adopted by Parliament rather than by the national COVID-19 response team.

The petition proposed that decisions by the national COVID-19 response team should be submitted by the government to Parliament for confirmation within 30 days of their adoption.

The court found that the amendment proposing the transfer of decisions that are inherent to the government to the legislature encroaches upon the structural features of the Croatian constitutional state and infringes the constitutional division of powers and responsibilities of the Croatian Parliament as a legislative authority and the national COVID-19 response team as an executive authority, "and is hence contrary to the Constitution and the rule of law as one of the highest values."   

The court said that, in view of the necessity of urgent action, Parliament could not be expected to adopt measures requiring a rapid response by a two-thirds majority.

At the same session, the court unanimously abolished Article 11 of the regulation governing procedures that precede the conclusion of legal transactions concerning the allocation of state-owned immovable properties for use by state administration bodies or other beneficiaries of the state budget and other persons.

The court launched the procedure to test the constitutionality of the section of the Courts Act concerning background checks of judges and temporarily suspended all actions being undertaken based on the legal provisions contested.

For more, check out our politics section.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Plenković Accuses Milanović, Bridge of Hypocritical Policy Towards Bosnia Croats

ZAGREB, 3 May 2022 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday evening that President Zoran Milanović and his "supporters" from the Bridge party were pursuing a hypocritical policy aimed at doing harm to the government and to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Plenković said that Milanović's proposal that members of the Croatian parliament should vote against the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO was perfidious.

"He (Milanović) has not said that he will block their accession. He has disseminated a perfidious, even worse claim. It was him who said that he would call MPs traitors and he insisted that the Parliament should block (their accession)," Plenković said explaining "the perfidious situation" created by Milanović.

The PM elaborated that this political game was aimed at destabilising Croatia's institutions, the government, and doing harm to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He also noted that as far as he could see, only Milanović was against Sweden's and Finland's membership of the alliance, while nobody else in NATO supported such idea.

"Such attitude against NATO's expansion is a pro-Russian stance. He is the only one who advocates that. Only those who advocate pro-Russian views can be satisfied with such attitude," Plenković said, recalling Milanović's criticism of Ukraine.

Plenković noted that Milanović's pro-Russian position does harm to Croatia in international circles and also to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As for the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Plenković said that the election system in that country was bad not only for the Croats but also for the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia's government believes that the election law must be amended, he added.

The government works on that consistently, it holds talks with the Bosniaks, the Croats and partners in the international community on that topic, Plenković added.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Committee Recommends Constitutionality Test for COVID Referendum Questions

ZAGREB, 30 March 2022 - The committee on the Constitution on Wednesday recommended by majority vote that parliament forward the questions from the Bridge party's referendum petitions against COVID certificates, and the national COVID crisis management team, to the Constitutional Court for assessment.

Parliament is expected to vote on the recommendation before the Easter recess.

Seven members of the parliamentary committee were for and five against asking the Constitutional Court to assess the question against the certificates, while 11 were for and one - Božo Petrov of Bridge - against the constitutionality test for the question against the crisis management team.

The opposition Bridge wants Article 17 of the Constitution to include the declaration of an epidemic as a moment when constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms can be restricted, but only by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The party also wants the law protecting the population from infectious diseases to be amended so that parliament, and not a national crisis management team, decides on restrictions of rights and freedoms.

Nikola Grmoja of Bridge requested the recusal of judge Miroslav Šumanović if the Constitutional Court will assess the referendum questions because of his statement in 2019 that the people cannot decide by referendum on changing the Constitution.

Petrov said the conditions for holding the referendum had been met and that it should be called without the Constitutional Court's opinion.

According to the opposition Social Democratic Party, the petition to amend the law was not prepared well, that it is against the Constitution, and that the court should assess it. "It's simply impossible for every decision, including technical ones, to be implemented through parliament," party president Peđa Grbin said.

Constitutional law expert Sanja Barić said two decisions should be made. "The legislative petition is counter-constitutional, and I doubt the constitutionality of the petition to change the Constitution."

Bridge called her out for acting as a politician and not an expert.

The committee's external member, constitutional law expert Branko Smerdel, said the Constitutional Court should assess both questions. He warned about a flood of populists and "referendum-mania", pushing for amending the referendum law.

The Constitutional Court has 30 days to say if the referendum questions are in compliance with the Constitution.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Bridge Terminates Cooperation With Split Mayor, Demands Fresh Election

ZAGREB, 30 March 2022 - The three members of the Bridge party in the Split City Council have terminated their cooperation with Mayor Ivica Puljak over his failure to resolve the case of his deputy, Bojan Ivošević, and Bridge's local branch has called for a fresh election.

Ivošević has been indicted for threatening an editor of the Slobodna Dalmacija daily.

"Mayor Puljak's actions have presented us with a fait accompli, irreparably compromising our cooperation with him and the executive authority. That's why we are compelled to terminate our cooperation," Bridge Councillor Josip Markotić told a press conference in Split.

Markotić said the only way out of the present situation was a fresh election, and not just for the City Council but also for Mayor. "We insist on this election," he stressed, adding that the election could be held together with local elections in the city scheduled for June.

Markotić said his party had tried to meet with the mayor to discuss the new situation, but "a meeting never materialised."

The councillors from the Smart for Split and Dalmatia party, the We Can! platform and the Ramljak-Marić Independent List said on Tuesday they were suspending their cooperation with Mayor Puljak over his indecision to resolve the Ivošević case.

Markotić said that Bridge had talked to these councillors and they had agreed on their reactions together, "the only difference being that we insist on a fresh election."

Responding to questions from the press, Markotić said they could restore cooperation with the mayor if Ivošević resigned.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Left-liberal Parties Unwilling to Support Bridge Motion to Replace Three Ministers

ZAGREB, 23 March 2022 - Even though the opposition Bridge party still lacks 31 signatures to file a motion for the replacement of three government members, being seven signatures short of the number of signatures required for such a move, Social Democrats are not likely to sign the petition either.

Bridge vice-president Nikola Grmoja last week commended Bridge MPs as well as deputies of the Homeland Movement and the Social Democrats as "true opposition groups," attacking the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and We Can! for not wishing to sign his party's motion for the replacement of Deputy PM Boris Milošević, Labour Minister Josip Aladrović and Economy Minister Tomislav Ćorić.

Bridge is not likely to collect the remaining seven signatures from the Social Democrats as their position is similar to that of the SDP and We Can!, which believe that the dissolution of the parliament and calling an early election is a priority rather than insistence on the replacement of individual ministers.

A month ago, seven left-liberal groups put forward a proposal to dissolve the parliament, noting that a government reshuffle was not the solution because the government was incorrigible.

Even though Grmoja said that his party motion had been supported by Social Democrats Davor Bernardić and Matko Kuzmanić, according to unofficial sources from that party group, it is not very likely that more members of the party group will sign the petition.

Grmoja said that his party would continue calling on the rest of the Opposition to support the Bridge motion because it believes it is the only right thing to do.

"In these unstable times, it is not normal for people who are under investigation to keep their ministerial positions. It is the Opposition's task to make the prime minister come to the parliament and at least defend his ministers," Grmoja said, recalling that a month and a half ago the Bridge parliamentary group gave all of its eight signatures for the motion of the left-liberal opposition parties.

Asked on Monday by reporters about the Opposition's motion for the parliament's dissolution, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said that even when it was put on the agenda, it would not receive support.

Speaking of the ministers who were under investigation by the Office of State Attorney, he admitted that that made the situation more complicated but underlined the presumption of innocence and added that a decision on the matter was up to PM Andrej Plenković.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Most Says Referendums to Build "Missile Shield" for Democracy

ZAGREB, 15 March 2022 - MPs of the opposition Bridge party said on Tuesday that the Public Administration Ministry had determined that the party had collected a sufficient number of signatures for its two referendum initiatives, noting that the purpose of the two referendums was to build a shield for democracy and human rights.

MP Nikola Grmoja said that the referendum initiative aimed at amending Article 17 of the Constitution to include epidemic and pandemic as events during which constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms can be restricted only by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, had collected 370,310 valid signatures.

The other initiative, advocating a referendum against the national COVID-19 crisis management team, has collected 372,635 valid signatures, as determined by the Public Administration Ministry.

Grmoja believes that despite the war in Ukraine, that topic had not lost its relevance as it could become important again in autumn.

He noted that the current growth of prices in Croatia and the rest of the world was not due only to the Russian aggression against Ukraine because food and energy prices had been going up before it.

MP Nino Raspudić said that the issues raised by the two referendum initiatives were definitely not passe, claiming the government was keeping citizens in a state of permanent emergency in order to cover up its criminal activities.

"Croatia is being held captive by completely incompetent and immoral people implicated in criminal activity. This is the only way to say 'enough' through institutions. Croatian citizens have said so," Raspudić said, adding that the referendum question seeking to amend article 17 of the Constitution was aimed at building "a strong, lasting missile shield for democracy and human rights in Croatia" because "the same story could continue after the summer."

Asked for a comment on the varying expert assessments regarding the crash of a military drone in Zagreb last Thursday, Grmoja said that "Defence Minister Mario Banožić can no longer continue to be minister after this."

"Not only because of the fact that the incident happened, with our air defence system failing to react, but because of the very communication following this unprecedented incident," he said.

Monday, 7 March 2022

Bridge MP Says 10,000 Referendum Signatures Missing

7 March 2022 - MP Nikola Grmoja of Bridge said on Monday the party refused a report on the number of signatures collected for a referendum against the national COVID-19 crisis management team due to a discrepancy in the numbers of submitted and entered signatures, but that there were still enough.

"We refused this report because something is obviously wrong. According to their report, we have enough signatures for a referendum to be called but 10,000 signatures are missing. Only 397,000 were entered, while we submitted 409,000. It's not clear where the rest of the signatures is," he told the press.

Grmoja said 6% of the signatures was invalid and that Bridge knew this already.

"That leaves about 372,000, which is enough for calling a referendum, but we can't agree to this because the counting (of signatures) for the other referendum petition is still under way. Given this irregularity, it's possible they will try to do something with the other one (petition)."

Grmoja said Bridge would ask the Administration Ministry to explain the discrepancy and that it would not accept the report until it was told what happened.

Ministry will allow access to entered data

The ministry's spokeswoman Martina Andrijević said a little over 397,000 signatures were counted and entered into the system and that 24,498 signatures were invalid.

She said representatives of the referendum petition were present during the signature counting and entering into the system, and that today began the verification of signatures collected for a referendum against COVID certificates.

As for Grmoja's claims about missing signatures, Andrijević said the ministry verified those that were delivered from parliament.

She said the boxes with the signatures were opened in the presence of the referendum petition's representatives. "We verified all the signatures that were delivered."

She said the ministry would allow them to check the data entered if they requested it, adding that the procedure was transparent "in every stage".

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Bridge Calls On Government To Start Counting Referendum Signatures

ZAGREB, 17 Feb 2022 - The Bridge party called on the government and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica on Thursday to count the 410,000 signatures the party collected for a referendum against COVID certificates and the national COVID crisis management team.

A representative of the referendum petitions, Iva Rem, told the press the signatures were delivered to parliament on 24 January and that nothing had happened since.

Bridge MP Marin Miletić said Malenica announced yesterday the counting would take 15 to 30 days. "I once again call on Malenica not to engage in shady deals, not to play games of deception. They need to organize the people and count those signatures."

He said 410,000 citizens requested a referendum and that if Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and "his gang" respect democracy and democratic processes, they will count the signatures and ensure the citizens' right to a referendum.

Miletić said "there is no reason for nervousness" in the government, "notably when you have citizens before you who want a referendum."

Living-away-from-home allowance for MPs should be objectively regulated

Asked if MPs should continue to get the living-away-from-home allowance, he said it was not the same if an MP lives in Split or Dubrovnik and comes to Zagreb for work three or four times a week and if an MP lives in Zagreb and gets to work in five or 15 minutes.

"I'm for everything to be regulated and objectively defined, and Croatian citizens should know what each MP does, how much they work, and what the scope of their work is," Miletić said. "Some of us are in the field on weekends even, some of us have crossed 49,000 kilometers by car in eight months and are doing their job properly."

For more, check out our politics section.

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