Monday, 4 April 2022

Demographic Revitalisation Remains Strategic Issue, Prime Minister Says

4 April 2022 - Demographic revitalisation remains a strategic issue of Croatia's future and all actors must cooperate in this long-term project, from the national and local governments to civil society and the business sector, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday.

Speaking at an Economic and Social Council session, he said the Croatian Bureau of Statistics was still processing the results of last year's census but that they led to the conclusion that everyone would have to work together on more effective public policies that would contribute to turning the negative population trends around.

"We wish to create a positive social climate for starting and expanding a family, better care for children and our older citizens, because a demographically more vital Croatia is the only solution to the future of the Croatian people," the prime minister said.

That requires the synergy of the state, municipalities, towns, counties, civil society, the social partners, the academic community and the business sector because it is an issue on which it is easiest to reach a broad national consensus, he added.

Croatia's population began decreasing in 1991 as a consequence of the war, emigration, ageing and fewer births, but other EU member states have the same problems, he said.

The government is taking measures for youth, families and other social and economic actors via population, tax, social, housing, education, employment and other policies.

Plenković said a national reform programme would comprise 95 reforms in six areas - the economy; public administration and the judiciary; education, science and research; the labour market and welfare; health; and building reconstruction and energy efficiency.

He mentioned challenges such as climate change, energy efficiency, the crackdown on corruption, stronger administration, a modern education system, helping those most in need, and promoting healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.

Plenković also mentioned the government's activities to boost the economy and mitigate the blow of the crisis to living standards.

Monday, 6 April 2020

As Many as 50 000 Expats Could Return to Croatia

ZAGREB, April 6, 2020 - Croatian expats who lost their jobs in EU members states have started returning to Croatia following the outbreak of the coronavirus, aware that medical expenses, in case they get infected, will be much higher there than in Croatia, the Večernji List daily wrote on Monday.

In case the crisis lasts, the number of expats returning to Croatia will rise because as foreigners in other EU countries they will be among the first to get laid off, the daily said.

According to demographer Stjepan Šterc, those who left Croatia over the past several years will return to Croatia because they will lose their jobs in the crisis and will be unable to pay expensive rents and apartment leases in the EU.

It is difficult to estimate how many of them will return, but under the assumption that approximately 350,000 Croats have emigrated and that many of them will lose their jobs during the crisis, it can be estimated that up to 50,000 of them could potentially return to Croatia, Šterc said.

This does not mean that all of them would return immediately, but this and over the next several years. The number of the returnees will depend on Croatia's reaction to the economic crisis, the daily said.

More diaspora news can be found in the dedicated section.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Almost All Young Croatians Own a Smartphone and Most Live with Parents

ZAGREB, February 3, 2020 - Almost all young people in Croatia own a smartphone, they are politically neutral, most of them still live with parents, and are mostly concerned about the environment, poverty and terrorism, according to a survey conducted by the Hendal market research agency among 500 young people aged from 16 to 30.

"The survey shows that 57% of respondents still live with their parents and one in three lives with a partner. Most of them plan to get married and have children: 50% of those interviewed say that they will almost certainly or probably do so, while 13% of them are already married; 70% plan to have children, and 9% already have children," the agency reports.

When shopping, 57% of young people consider brands to be of medium importance, while 23% give them considerable importance. A third of them know which brand they will buy before shopping. They mostly get information about products from their families and friends.

One in three respondents shops online and 59% do so periodically. The most popular online shopping site is eBay, where they mostly shop for clothes and electronics.

Around 70% of young people say that they are mostly or completely financially self-sufficient, and their main source of financial information is banks. 59% of respodents do not own real estate, and 39% save money on a regular basis.

Half of young people watch television on a daily basis, and almost all of them have a smartphone, which they use more than 3 hours a day, while a third of them use their smartphones for more than 6 hours a day, mostly as a means of communication.

The most popular social network is Facebook, and 27% of young people follow influencers from the domestic scene, with Ella Dvornik and Andrea Andrassy being the most popular.

Young people spend most of their free time with their parents, and 42% of them cook often. The most popular hobbies include various sports activities, in which 43% of young people engage. They read 10 books a year on average.

As for music, 50% say they listen to pop music, 44% listen to rock, and 39% to turbo-folk music. Petar Grašo is the most liked domestic musician, and Luka Modrić the most popular domestic athlete.

Almost 57% of young people travelled within the last three months, and mostly in Europe (Austria, Slovenia, Italy). The most popular Croatian destination was Zagreb.

"Over 90% of young people eat a cooked meal every day, and they in general eat food prepared at home more often. Young people mostly care for their health, and they trust doctors the most when it comes to health. They sleep 7 hours on average," Hendal says.

53% of young people are employed, and they are mostly satisfied with their job, 12% are unemployed and looking for work, 19% are in college, and 13% work and study.

"Around 60% of young people say that they are considering starting their own business. When asked if they would move to a different country for work, 33% said that they possibly would, 19% answered that they probably would, and 14% said that they definitely would," the agency found.

Only 50% of young people always vote, and 46% of them are politically neutral. 92% of young people are not members of any political party, and 95% are not members of trade unions. They place little trust in institutions and are neutral about the military, the EU, the police, and NATO.

As for global issues, 47% say they are concerned about poverty, 40% about terrorism, 37% about pollution, and 31% about global warming.

More lifestyle news can be found in the dedicated section.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Addressing Demography Crucial for Croatia's Survival

ZAGREB, January 31, 2020 - Dealing with the issue of demography, namely the fact that every year Croatia loses a city the size of Makarska, is of the utmost importance for the country's survival and future, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said while opening the seventh meeting of the national council for demographic revitalisation on Friday.

Presenting measures designed to boost population growth that had been launched during his government's term, Plenković said that at the beginning of its term the government had recognised the problem of negative demographic trends that had existed for the last 70 years.

He warned about the fact that in that period, marked by constant emigration, the number of births had decreased three times, to the current figure of around 37,000, while the number of deaths grew mildly to 53,000 per year.

"This means that every year we lose more than 15,000 people or a town the size of Makarska, so responding to that issue is of the utmost importance for Croatia's survival and future," he said, stressing that his government had been the first to establish a ministry in charge of demography as well as the council for demographic revitalisation.

Demographic trends have also been affected by Croatia's accession to the EU because it has facilitated emigration as work permits are no longer needed, but Croatia is not the only EU member with such problems, he said.

"There are for the time being no policies at EU level designed to deal with that problem. It is in a way not surprising because such topics fall exclusively within the remit of member states, however, the problem is horizontal and that is why it needs to be dealt with at the level of EU institutions."

"Croatia has given prominence to that issue at the EU level and its insistence on finding a solution was recognised by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who agreed that the topic of demography should be taken into account when defining the new EC departments, and the issue of demography was included on the strategic agenda of the European Council for the next five-year period," he said.

Plenković said that over the past three years special attention had been paid to improving the standard of living of families with children.

The amount of parental allowance for employed parents for the other six months of maternity leave was increased in July 2017 from HRK 2,663 to 3,991, and on April 1 it will go up to HRK 5,643.

The income threshold for child allowance has been increased from HRK 1,663 to HRK 2,328 and the non-taxable income from HRK 2,600 to 4,000 while tax benefits for parents with children have also been increased.

"Personal deductions for parents with two children have been increased from HRK 5,720 to 8,250, deductions for parents with three children have been increased from HRK 8,320 to HRK 11,550, and that amount is progressively increased for each new child."

"The non-taxable childbirth allowance has been increased from HRK 2,500 to 10,000," he said, citing measures for housing provision enabling the subsidising of housing loans for more than 9,400 young families in which more than 1,000 children have been born so far.

Plenković expects that by the end of his government's term and with the help of socially subsidised housing construction and housing loans, around 20,000 young families would buy their own home.

He added that around 500 kindergartens across the country had been renovated, with the value of renovation work standing at HRK 1.167 billion.

"Young people aged under 25 have been exempt from income taxation, while the income tax for people aged 25-30 has been halved. We have adopted a measure under which women, when retiring, will have their years of service increased by six months per child, meaning that their pension will increase by around 2% per child," Plenković said, adding that 10,189 women had exercised that right last year.

He said that during its chairmanship of the Council of the EU Croatia would organise a ministerial conference on demographic challenges and opportunities for the EU's development and progress.

More demography news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Croatia to Conduct Population Census in Spring 2021

ZAGREB, January 30, 2020 - Croatia will conduct a population census in the spring of 2021, and on Thursday the government sent a bill to parliament regulating this most comprehensive and complex statistical survey of the population, households and homes in the country.

The census will be carried out from April 1 until May 7, 2021 in two stages. In the first stage, from April 1 to 10, citizens will be able to enter their details in the e-Citizen system, while from April 16 to May 7 census takers will visit households that did not fill in the census form electronically.

The census is organised, coordinated and conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (HGK) in cooperation with state administration and local and regional government authorities.

177.3 million kuna (24 million euro) has been set aside in the state budget for this purpose.

Sixteen censuses have been conducted in Croatia to date: eight between 1857 and 1931 and as many between 1948 and 2011. No census was taken in 1941 because of the Second World War.

More politics news can be found in the dedicated section.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Plenković: Young People Migrating for Financial Reasons, Not Because of Corruption

ZAGREB, January 16, 2020 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has told the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily that many of the young people who are leaving Croatia to work abroad are migrating for financial reasons and not because of corruption and nepotism.

"It's true we must step up the fight against corruption on every level, but the main reason for the emigration is the desire of young people to improve their financial situation in a short time," Plenković is quoted as saying in the newspaper's issue of Thursday, dismissing claims that the young are leaving Croatia because they are fed up with corruption and nepotism.

Plenković says half the EU member states are faced with declining populations and that Croatia is fighting at EU level for the problem to be taken seriously.

"The topic of demography was included in the European Union's 2019-24 Strategic Agenda at Croatia's explicit request. We are also happy that Commissioner Dubravka Šuica is in charge of demography in the new European Commission," he says, adding that he will discuss demography with German Chancellor Angela Berlin in Berlin today.

"In order to stop the population decline, we have significantly raised maternity and parental allowances, and we have exempted young people under 25 from income tax and those under 30 pay 50%," Plenković says about his government's measures to stop emigration.

In the interview, he dismisses the possibility of further opening the Croatian market for workers from non-EU countries, including from Southeast Asia. "That's not a topic for us now. Our quota system for issuing work permits is completely sufficient for current needs."

He also commends Croatia's economic development, saying that "thanks to positive development" his government has raised pensions and salaries in the public sector on three occasions.

Plenković is on a two-day working visit to Germany during which he will hold talks with Merkel and attend the opening of the International Green Week Berlin 2020 fair at which Croatia is the partner country.

More news about relations between Croatia and Germany can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Plenković Warns EU Loss of Population Existential Problem

ZAGREB, December 31, 2019 - The European Union has to face the existential problem of population decline affecting several member countries, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković warned in an interview with the Financial Times.

In the interview published on Monday on the Financial Times' web site, Plenković said that Croatia and other countries were grappling with a shrinking population because of low birth rates and emigration to more prosperous regions.

The population of 10 of the 28 EU member states grew smaller in 2018, including Croatia, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania.

"This is a structural, almost an existential problem for some nations, and we are not the only one,” Plenković told the Financial Times.

“We are losing a city of 15,000, 16,000 people per year just by the fact that we have 15,000, 16,000 more deaths than births. For a country of around 4m, that is a lot, right? Plus we have freedom of movement now,” added Plenković.

The EU's newest member is the fifth-fastest shrinking country in the world, and is set to lose 17 per cent of its 2017 population by 2050, according to the UN, the FT reported.

Lower birth rates are one cause, but so is emigration. Between 2013, when Croatia joined the EU, and 2017, approximately 5 per cent of the country’s population moved to other member states, the FT says.

Croatia wants to put demographics at the heart of its agenda for the EU during its six-month presidency of the bloc starting in January. Zagreb also successfully pushed for its EU commissioner, Dubravka Šuica, to receive a portfolio dealing with democracy and demography.

Plenković wants Brussels to examine which countries are most affected and what policies and measures have been implemented to boost birth rates.

"We really did a lot in terms of demographic politics, tax, childcare, amounts of money that we give to parents for motherhood, etc — we are doing as much as we can. But I think we should do something at the European level," he said.

Here Croatia is about to step into a highly politically charged area. The loss of the UK as a contributor to the EU budget is contributing towards a tight settlement in the EU's next multi-annual budget.

Eastern European states are anxious to defend the cohesion budget as they seek funding for left-behind regions, even as western nations insist that more EU cash should be devoted to modern priorities including research and climate change.

"The union budget is a big budget — it is a seven-year budget and it has to really find ways to be forthcoming or provide answers to various challenges," said Plenković.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Croatian Politics 2019: A Year in Review

What follows is a review of events in Croatian politics in 2019, as reported by TCN. If you would like to refresh your memory about the events which has led us here, read the reviews for the three previous years (2016, 2017, 2018).

The year started with a high-profile failure by the government. Months after it was announced that Croatia would buy used Israeli F-16 fighter planes, the US government vetoed the sale and the whole project fell through. Despite earlier warnings from experts that the deal was in question, ministers continued to claim that everything was alight. However, after a meeting between high-ranking officials from the United States and Israel, the truth was revealed. Ministers lost their nerves and the government launched an immediate investigation, which expectedly ended without any real results, and also announced that it would re-start the process. To show its level of seriousness, it even established a commission! Twelve months later, the process of deciding which aircraft to buy still hasn't move any further on and is not expected to end for at least another year.

The migrant crisis continued to be in the news this year. The inflow of migrants over the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia increased somewhat, together with media coverage about alleged brutality of Croatian police and illegal pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia. The authorities were quick to deny everything, but the sheer number of documented cases makes it apparent that at least some of the allegations are founded.

Efforts to limit media freedoms continued this year and some reporters were even briefly arrested. Journalists, NGOs and international organisations stood up to these attempts, but the final score is still unknown.

Repression continued in other ways as well, with courts ruling that peaceful protesters should go to prison, Croatia's human rights situation being criticised from abroad, ethnically-motivated assaults (several of them) taking place, ombudswomen’s warnings not being heard, journalists receiving instructions from the president on what to do, and diplomats spreading hate...

Historical revisionism was in full force once again this year. As a result, representatives of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist organisations once again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp.

European elections were held in May (with even Pamela Anderson giving recommendations to Croatian voters). While the ruling HDZ party had high hopes earlier in the year (and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended one of its rather controversial rallies in Zagreb), the actual results were much tighter and were interpreted by everyone as a success for the opposition (particularly SDP) and a disappointment for the government.

June brought us a few days of excitement when it seemed possible that prime minister Plenković might just succeed in his life-long dream of getting a top EU job. Despite denying he ever wanted such a thing, he was rumoured to be trying to become president of the European Commission (or president of the European Council, or perhaps something else). In the end, he had to return to Croatia empty handed, again denying his alleged attempts.

Unlike Plenković, foreign minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić was more successful in the area of career development. In June, she was elected secretary-general of the Council of Europe. She promptly resigned her post in Croatia and has not been heard about since. Another happy politician is Dubravka Šuica, who has been appointed Croatia’s commissioner in the European Commission.

Mostly good economic news continued. Public debt is at its lowest level in decades, the European Commission concluded that Croatia no longer suffered from excessive economic imbalances, and GDP growth is holding up.

One of the companies which was in the public focus this year was Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national flag carrier. Its business results were dismal and the search for possible strategic partners was on, but without any real results. The government eventually decided to cover some of the debts, but as the year comes to and end, there is no long-term solution in sight. In the meantime, Zagreb Airport continues to lose airlines using its services.

The construction of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has apparently started out with strong support from the US government, after many years of delays and announcements. The project is funded from the state budget, since there was no interest among anyone to actually use the terminal. The government claims that there will be interest once the terminal is built, but it would not be the first major government-funded project in Croatia’s history to fail to deliver on its promises.

The construction of Pelješac bridge continues to go at an even faster pace than expected (despite occasional Bosnian protests), mostly thanks to the efforts by the Chinese construction company which won the tender, which also brought about a marked improvement in the relations between Croatia and China. Unfortunately, the construction of the access roads leading up to the bridge has not progressed nearly as fast, with tenders being decided just several months ago. It is quite possible that, when the bridge is built, it will be unusable for a while because there will be no roads leading to it.

Emigration continues amid Croatia's demographic crisis, although somewhat slower than in previous years, probably as a result of the fact that most of those who could have left have already done so. The authorities talk about demographic revival, but nothing much has happened so far.

Political scandals were as numerous as ever. The regional development minister had an accident while driving without a driving license, the agriculture minister forgot to list all his assets on an official statement, the administration minister had his own scandals which were too numerous even to count, and the state assets minister had problems of his own. The Prime minister strongly supported his ministers before some of them resigned, and then he changed his mind and dismissed the rest of them.

The ruling coalition remained stable this year, despite occasional rumours of impending collapse. Ultimatums were rejected, resignations demanded, talks announced, decisions to stay in coalition made, threats given... Just the usual stuff.

As expected, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia has not been resolved this year. Slovenia was disappointed with the EU’s decision not to get involved in a dispute between its two members. The chances that this issue will feature in our review for 2020 are quite high.

In October, the European Commission announced that Croatia has fulfilled all the technical conditions to join the Schengen area. However, the final decision will require the unanimous support of all EU member states, and Slovenia does not seem ready to give its approval until the border dispute with Croatia is resolved. 

Another major project is the introduction of euro in Croatia. After a lot of talk, the government has finally sent an official request. The process will certainly take years and opinion is divided as to whether it is a good idea or not.

One of the highlights were the trade union's activities. Earlier in the year, the unions managed to collect enough signatures for a referendum against the government’s pension reform and an increase in the retirement age. The government capitulated and revoked already approved laws (although it previously warned that such a decision would be a disaster).

The other major trade union success was the primary and secondary school strike later in the year. After almost two months, the government capitulated and gave the unions more or less everything they had asked for.

One of the highlights of the next six months will be Croatia’s EU presidency. The government is promoting it as a great success, although all EU member states sooner or later get their chance to hold the rotating presidency. While Croatia's plans are ambitious, their delivery will probably be more modest.

The major event at the end of the year was the first round of Croatia's presidential elections.

While the post is largely ceremonial, elections are held every five years and still manage to occupy public attention for months. Three major candidates launched their bids: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (officially an independent candidate who in reality is HDZ), former SDP prime minister Zoran Milanović, and singer Miroslav Škoro, who presented himself as a candidate of change, despite having been an MP, a diplomat and a former HDZ member.

The first round was held on December 22. Zoran Milanović won with 29.6% of the vote, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.7%. Škoro was third with 24.5%. Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović will take part in the run-off on January 5.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Number of Students Drops by Nearly 50,000 in 6 Years

ZAGREB, December 21, 2019 - The number of students in Croatian primary and secondary schools has dropped by nearly 50,000 in six years, according to Science and Education Ministry data, Jutarnji List daily reported on Saturday.

The paper says that emigration in recent years, notably of whole families with children, exacerbates the depopulation trends.

The latest ministry data shows that a record-low number of students (461,372) enrolled in primary and secondary schools in the 2019/20 school year – 3,198 fewer than the previous year.

Since the 2013/14 school year, the number of primary and secondary school students has dropped by 47,835, Jutarnji says, adding that there is almost 10% fewer students than six years ago. Every county reports a fall in the number of students except Istria, which is at zero growth, and the City of Zagreb, which has 298 more.

The eastern region of Slavonia recorded the highest decreases over the past six years - by 23.44% in Vukovar-Srijem County, by 22.66% in Pozega-Slavonia County and by 22.46% in Brod-Posavina County.

Still, Jutarnji says, the current school year saw an increase in the number of first grade students, from 38,371 to 38,658, as well as the smallest difference in the number of students year on year – 3,198 fewer than in 2018/19.

More demographic news can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Non-EU Citizens Come to Croatia Mainly for Employment Reasons

ZAGREB, November 2, 2019 - Last year, the European Union issued 3.22 million residence permits for non-EU citizens and the figures show that a majority of those non-EU citizens who moved to Croatia in 2018 did it for employment reasons, the Večernji List daily reported on Saturday.

The European Commission states that "in 2018, some 3.2 million residence permits were issued across the EU to people from non-member countries, and that the main reason for a first residence permit being issued in the EU was for family reasons (915 000 first residence permits)."

The permits are issued for employment-related reasons, family-related reasons, education as well as for subsidiary protection and asylum.

Poland with 328 000 permits was by far the leading destination in the EU-28 for those seeking to obtain a residence permit for employment-related reasons. Most non-EU residents seeking employment in Poland were Ukrainians, according to the Večernji List's report.

"The next most common destination was the United Kingdom (108 000 permits issued for employment-related reasons), followed by Germany (68 000) and Spain (58 000)," the Commission has reported.

"First residence permits issued for employment-related reasons represented more than half of the total number of permits issued in Croatia (90.3%), Lithuania (77.5 %), Slovenia (71.0 %), Slovakia (66.5 %), Malta (59.3 %), Hungary (56.6%) and Poland (51.6 %)," according to the data provided by the EC.

Employment-related reasons also accounted for the highest shares (but not an absolute majority) of the total number of permits issued in Czechia, Cyprus, Latvia, Romania, Estonia and Denmark, says the EC.

As for education-related reasons, the top destination for the non-EU citizens was the United Kingdom.

The report by the EC reads that the UK "was by far the most common destination in the EU-28 for students from non-member countries."

"In 2018, there were 190 000 first residence permits issued in the United Kingdom for education-related reasons; this represented three tenths (29.6 %) of all the permits issued for education-related reasons in the EU-28 and 42.2 % of the total number of permits issued in the United Kingdom."

"In relative terms, education-related reasons accounted for the highest share of the total number of permits issued in Ireland (60.5 %)."

The Zagreb-based Večernji List reported that only 495 non-EU residents arrived in Croatia in 2018 for education-related reasons, according to statistics about EU first residence permits.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

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