Friday, 2 December 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Ukrainian Soldiers, Schengen, Euros and Hats

December the 2nd, 2022 - This week in the often weird world of Croatian politics, we've been dominated by football, Qatar and people's outfit choices more than we have much else. Still, Ukraine, Schengen, Croatia's now rapidly approaching Eurozone accession and more are still reigning strong. Oh, and let's not forget the drone from back in March which we're still not sure who launched.

Who was best dressed for the most recent Croatia match in Qatar - former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, or the wife of current president Zoran Milanovic, Sanja Music Milanovic? That is the question!

Croatia has been progressing well in Qatar, and with some of Croatian politics' main women being present, including former president Grabar-Kitarovic, who is known for her unbridled passion and love for the Croatian national team when they play. Memes were made, articles were written, comparisons were made - but who wore it best? Index even had a poll, check it out for yourself here.

Parliamentarian Kreso Beljak is against training Ukrainian soldiers here in Croatia, believing we have nothing to teach them

Member of Parliament and president of HSS (Croatian Peasants' Party), Kreso Beljak made a guest appearance on N1 television/televizija recently, during which he explained why he is choosing not to support the government's proposal on the training of Ukrainian soldiers here in Croatia. He also commented on the parliamentary debate on the matter and the decision of Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic, who banned him from speaking for two days.

Beljak claims that Jandrokovic cut him off when he suggested to Defense Minister Banozic that it might be time to take a different view of things and try to sit down with President Zoran Milanovic on the matter. He accused the Speaker of the Parliament of not allowing him to exceed his speaking time by 12 seconds, and after that he only allowed HDZ representatives to reply to him, while he himself failed to have the opportunity to speak.

"I'm a public figure, I represent the people who pay me to do so, and that Jandrokovic with all his complexes isn't going to stop me from doing that," he said. Beljak also explained why he will not support the government's proposal on the training of Ukrainian soldiers, although he emphasises that it is indisputable that Russia is the aggressor and Ukraine is the victim in this situation

"A war is being waged, it's being waged with technology that we could only dream about or see in sci-fi films, aircraft, drones... something that we could've only imagined back in 1991. I don't see what we, that is, the Croatian army, could ever teach the Ukrainians at this moment in time, it could only be the other way around," said Beljak.

He is convinced that the entire story surrounding the training of Ukrainian soldiers is actually a spin of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who wants to ingratiate himself with high-ranking people within NATO and the EU and use this situation to do precisely that. He concluded that he'd support the decision on military training if all EU member states participated in it, but that he will not because only ten of them, Croatia included, have agreed to take part.

Nobody has any issues with Croatian joining Schengen, the EU's top brass claims

The Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), which consists of ambassadors of European Union member states, discussed the expansion of the Schengen area to Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania as part of the preparations for the meeting of the Council for Justice and Internal Affairs next week.

No member state had objections to the proposal to admit Croatia to Schengen. According to their internal rules, some member statesmust obtain the approval of the competent committees in their national parliaments for their positions in the EU Council.

The governments of Sweden, Denmark, Slovenia, and the Netherlands have submitted proposals to their parliaments supporting Croatia's entry and are now waiting for their green light. All other EU and Schengen members have already confirmed their support for Croatia. Coreper will again have the expansion of the Schengen area on the agenda on December the 7th, just one day before the meeting of interior ministers who should take the final decision.

You can read more into this very important matter for the world of Croatian politics by clicking here.

President Zoran Milanovic talks energy crisis, claims that Russia and the United States of America are two large and indestructible countries, but China isn't

Zoran Milanovic said on Tuesday that energy isn't a commodity, but a resource that guarantees security, independence and strength, and that the European Union is currently in a situation where it will ''have to buy gas from the USA at three times the price".

"Energy is a key issue at this moment, but it always is otherwise,'' said Milanovic at the opening of the "Business Meets Politics - Energy Today and Tomorrow'' economic forum, organised by the Slovenian-Croatian Business Club and the Slovenian Embassy in Croatia, held as part of the visit Slovenian President Borut Pahor to Croatia. Milanovic stated that Croatian Schengen accession will see the two neighbouring countries cooperate and deepen their ties even more.

Milanovic then said that Russia and the USA, each in their own way, aren't "two large and indestructible states" just by chance. "They're indestructible because they have certain technologies (...) and unlimited amounts of energy for their needs. China is no longer that category," Milanovic asserted.

For a long time, the European Union was "under the illusion" that it would establish an energy market, but given the serious state of the Russia-Ukraine war, it came to the point that it would simply need buy gas from its ally, the USA, at three times the price, he claimed.

"Those countries are in a very serious state of war, more serious than ever before in our lives. We've come to the conclusion that we'll just have to buy gas from our allies at three times the price. That's a fact. It's going to cost us money," he said.

He also said that this is why French President Macron went to the US to talk with US President Biden. "Actually, he went to beg from the position of a weaker partner for understanding and mercy," Milanovic assessed in his usual ''gloves off'' style.

Croatia will be much more deeply protected when we introduce the euro as our official currency, claims PM Andrej Plenkovic

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic recently said at the Days of Regional Development and EU Funds conference which was held in Opatija that the county needs to face the great challenge of declining natural growth and the demographic deficit far more seriously, as this is all becoming an essential strategic problem in and for Croatia.

"Now it's up to us to make our country and society as high-quality as we possibly can, to face the great challenge of the decline in natural growth, the demographic deficit that is becoming an essential strategic problem of the Croatian people and society, and where we must use all good practices and mechanisms to at least slow down the negative the trends we're dealing with," emphasised the Prime Minister.

In his presentation, Plenkovic also said that the meeting on regional development and EU funds is significant because it takes place in a year that was full of numerous EU activities and the completion of large projects and processes which were of enormous importance for the country in a strategic sense, as well as for Croatian politics.

"This is the year in which we completed the largest EU project of the Peljesac bridge and all of its access roads, which will forever be a symbol of the first seven years of EU membership and which finally connected the territory of the Republic of Croatia," said Plenkovic, adding that "we showed what modern sovereignty looks like and how the strengthened position of Croatia can best be used for the realisation of our strategic national goals."

He noted that we're now in the very last month in which our currency is the kuna, and that in a month, Croatia will become the 20th member of the Eurozone, scrapping the kuna and adopting the bloc's single currency.

"Croatia will be much less exposed and much more protected when it joins the Eurozone,'' he said, noting that a ministerial decision on Croatia's entry into the Schengen area is expected very soon. He assessed that it is a precedent that the country enters both the Eurozone and the Schengen area on the very same day in January 2023.

"This means that through the two mandates of our government, we've achieved our strategic goals and reached the stage where, after only 30 years of international recognition, we're among fifteen countries in the world that are in NATO, the EU, Schengen and the Eurozone.''

Going back to the Ukrainian, or Russian (or whoever's) drone which landed in Zagreb earlier this year, the Defence Minister has stated that no, he still doesn't know where it came from or who launched it

The Croatian Ministry of Defense reacted to how the media reported the statement of Minister Banozic about the drone that fell in Zagreb back in March this year. Their reaction is presented below. "Regarding media articles under the headings "Minister Banozic: We know who launched the drone that fell on Zagreb" and similar, in order to provide true and objective reporting to the public, the Ministry of Defense is obliged to react.

Namely, the texts published an incorrect quote as well as an incorrect interpretation of what Banozic said in the Croatian Parliament on November the 30th, 2022. Minister Banozic never said "we know who launched the drone that fell on Zagreb, but it's a secret".

He referred to the fact that the unmanned aircraft passed through several countries and stated that Croatia exchanged information with NATO member states, but didn't prejudge the final information about who launched the drone, about which the investigation is still ongoing," explains the statement issued by the Croatian Ministry of Defense.

The Ministry of Defense then wrote exactly what Banozic actually said in the parliament in response to the reply of the representative of the Homeland Movement, Stipe Mlinaric:

"Responding to the reply of Stipe Mlinaric, a member of the Croatian Parliament, the minister said: "First of all, I want to say that neither Prime Minister Plenkovic nor I took pictures of ourselves standing next to any hole/crater [left by the drone when it crash-landed], we were present at the location for which we expressed concern based on analyses at the time, which clearly showed that there was a threat being made from the incoming missile itself.''

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section, and follow our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published each Friday.

Friday, 25 November 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Politician Pay Rises, Schengen and Ukraine

November the 25th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from wage increases for politicians and state officials and saying an emphatic ''YES'' to training Ukrainian soldiers, to Austria changing its tune regarding Croatian Schengen accession and Milanovic claiming that it's actually America fighting with Russia through Ukraine.

The monthly wage earned by Plenkovic, his ministers and parliamentarians is set to go up

Much to the delight of every average Joe living and working in Croatia and struggling to make ends meet, Plenkovic and co are set to get a wage increase. 

You'll probably remember that last month, the government and the trade unions finally came to an agreement on a basic salary increase, meaning that the monthly salary will also increase for Plenkovic, Milanovic, Jandrokovic, government ministers and members of parliament, that is, for all officials. However, with the passing of this particular law, the President of the Constitutional Court will be taking home the highest official salary, and not President Zoran Milanovic.

With the amendments to the law that the government sent to the parliament recently, for which it is requesting adoption under an urgent procedure, the base rate for officials will be the same as that applied to civil servants, so all future increases, including this one now, will automatically apply to politicians as well.

One Ukrainian minister thanks Croatia for allowing Ukrainian soldiers to come and be trained to fight the Russians in Croatia

''Thanks, Plenkovic!'' tweets the minister...

You might recall the likes of President Zoran Milanovic among others being staunchly against the idea of training Ukrainian soldiers to fight against their invaders here in Croatia. Milanovic believed that Croatia's showcasing of unwavering support for Ukraine and providing help and safety for refugees was enough, and that anything else would be provocation of Putin and inviting the war to this country's doorstep. Many agreed with him. Many more found themselves surprised at agreeing with him.

Still, it seems that his case for disapproval fell on deaf ears as the Ukrainian Defence Minister, Oleksij Reznikov, thanked Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi and Defense Minister Marij Banozic on Twitter after the government sent the decision on Croatia's participation in the military aid mission to Ukraine for approval by the parliament yesterday.

"The government of the Republic of Croatia approved the decision to train the Ukrainian army in Croatia. A modern, well-trained army with powerful partners will definitely defeat a pack of Russian murderers, robbers and rapists. Thank you Andrej Plenkovic and Mario Banozic for their support!" Reznikov tweeted.

Croatia's participation in the military aid mission to Ukraine includes the training of Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia, which isn't something many people are all too thrilled about. Banozic, however, seems to have allowed all logical opposition to this fly right over his head. ''What are they against? Are they against saving lives?'' he asked.

Zoran Milanovic claims that America is fighting a war against Russia... through Ukraine

If you're a follower of Croatian politics in any deeper capacity, you'll know that President Milanovic often comes out with some rather unusual things. He also never misses an opportunity to spit on HDZ, which for many makes him a popular character in at least one aspect. For others, his distasteful remarks cross the line a bit too often, and for others, well, they can't quite make head nor tail of him. He has recently come out with something quite strange.

The Day of the City of Zadar took place recently, which is celebrated at a formal session of the City Council, and Milanovic was there. As expected, he referred to the government's decision to train Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia which I mentioned above, and which he was firmly against. "This is personal terror and harassment by Plenkovic, it's just his desire to push some of his ideas," said Milanovic, as RTL reported at the time.

President Milanovic also said that he knows what is written in the Croatian Constitution because ''he wrote it''. He was referring to the statement of the government at that session that the training of Ukrainian soldiers is based on the Constitution and on the laws and international agreements according to which Ukraine is an allied country.

''Therefore,'' Milanovic added: "Ukraine, to its credit, is not an ally." "The Croatian Parliament is not responsible for making any decisions on the training of foreign soldiers in Croatia," he said. He called things as they were set up by the government a "Udbas sabotage", which, if you know who the ''Udbasi'' (the Yugoslav secret service) were and what they got up to, you'll realise is quite the statement.

"Now it will be seen who's Russia and who's for Ukraine. I'm not for anyone. I'm for Croatia,'' Milanovic said.

"There's a war going on there between America and Russia. Between Russia and Ukraine, I'm on the side of Ukraine, of course. But it's a war between America and Russia," he said. "We have to state that the Americans are waging a war against Russia through Ukrainian youths, we have to say that. When it comes to decisions that have a security and defense character, you have to consult with the president, and I say to the members of parliament: ''Don't be intimidated,'' he said.

New measures against inflation could come to be, and all hands are on deck for post-earthquake reconstruction (for the earthquake that occurred two years ago)

Plenkovic recently pointed out that the proposed state budget for next year will provide funds for the growth of both wages and pensions, increased funds for veterans and the army, and he also announced possible new measures to mitigate the impact of inflation, with the message that "there's power and space for that".

"We have the space and strength to do that, if there's a need, and considering the circumstances, our measures will be precise and comprehensive, and as we've done so far, we'll solve it and you'll be satisfied with what we do,'' said Plenkovic in response to Branko Grcic (SDP ) when asked what will happen at the end of March next year, when all previous measures are due to expire.

''We'll also reduce excise duties on heating oil and thereby provide additional assistance to people,'' announced the Prime Minister during the parliamentary debate on the 2023 budget, adding that ''the number of people at risk of poverty is continuously falling in Croatia and that figure is smaller than when we assumed responsibility.''

In his answers to the deputies, Plenković pointed out that the fight against corruption continues, that it is strong and brings results.

Regarding the post-earthquake reconstruction for the earthquakes which struck Zagreb in March 2020 and the Banovina area in December of that same year, which he was also asked about, Plenkovic said that the government is providing a lot of aid and that the reconstruction of houses is intensifying, that all departments are working on reconstruction and are in charge of spending the available funds.

Austria is now all for Croatia joining Schengen, or is it?

You may have read (or heard) about Austria taking a stance against Croatia joining the Schengen zone in January 2023, with talk of the country potentially going as far as to block entry. Now it seems that the tide has turned, or has it? Memories are short when it comes to Croatian politics.

Plenkovic recently received the Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, Karl Nehammer, at Banski dvori. This is Nehammer's first official visit to Croatia as chancellor.

"In the last thirty years or so, relations with Austria have been among the most extensive of the numerous countries with which Croatia cooperates since it was internationally recognised. Since the 1990s, Austria has been the second biggest investor in Croatia. This year, Croatia was visited by one and a half million Austrian tourists,'' said Plenkovic at the beginning of the press conference.

"Today we also discussed the most important topic ahead of this visit, which is the final two weeks before the decision on Croatian membership of the Schengen area. This was an opportunity to once again explain to the chancellor what Croatia has done from 2016 until today," Plenkovic said.

"We're currently discussing the expansion of Schengen, and we can see that Austria in particular has insufficient protection of its external borders. At the same time, we have a reduction in border protection within the EU itself, in our opinion it can't continue like that, so some measures will have to be taken,'' he said.

"When we talk about Schengen's expansion, and at the same time we criticise the plan that the European Commission should present with regard to these problems that we've presented, it is important to say that this doesn't apply to Croatia. Special votes will be cast for Croatia, as they will for both Bulgaria and Romania. We'll support Croatia's accession to the Schengen area, but we're going to be critical of the efforts of Bulgaria and Romania," added the Austrian chancellor.

The Austrian chancellor also said that it is necessary to change the system and strengthen the EU's external borders in order to make free movement within Schengen possible.

It's worth noting that Austrian Minister of the Interior, Gerhard Karner, caused great concern reently after he said that he was against the expansion of the Schengen area to include Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Over the past few days, he has repeatedly said that he is against any Schengen expansion, which he said is something that simply isn't working, which can be seen from the increased number of asylum seekers arriving in Austria. That country registered the entry of around 100,000 migrants this year alone, of which 75,000 were not previously registered in any EU country at all.

Nehammer warned that his minister wanted to signal that "Schengen is clearly not working and that new measures are needed." The Council for Justice and Internal Affairs meets on December the 8th and 9th, when it will make the final decision on Croatia's entry into the Schengen area. Croatia's accession was previously supported by the European Commission and the European Parliament, so all fingers (and likely toes) are crossed.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep your eyes peeled for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 18 November 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Taxes on Taxes, Drones and Spanish Royalty

This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from Spanish royalty visiting the country for the very first time to Milanovic insulting the foreign minister, missiles hitting Poland, complaints about taxes being put on taxes and still not actually knowing who dropped a drone on Zagreb back in March.

PM Andrej Plenkovic meets the Spanish king

Andrej Plenkovic met with the Spanish king during the very first visit of the Spanish royals to the Republic of Croatia this week. King Felipe VI of Spain and Plenkovic sat down to discuss economic cooperation, the ongoing energy crisis, migrant policies and Croatia's imminent entry into the Schengen area.

As stated, this was the Spanish royal couple's very first official visit to Croatia, and Plenkovic pointed out that the visit is "a pledge to further strengthen bilateral relations with Spain at all levels, with a special emphasis placed on on cultural, educational and scientific exchange".

A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation on cooperation in the creation of the DONES Programme, which envisages a partnership between Croatia and Spain in fusion research.

"Projects like this are an opportunity for further cooperation between Croatian and Spanish companies in the high-tech and scientific sphere, they also represent the improvement of economic relations," the press release on the matter stated. Plenkovic was quick to thank King Felipe for Spain's ongoing support in Croatia's entry into Schengen, which is set to occur on the 1st of January, 2023, the same date on which Croatia will officially adopt the euro as its currency.

The pair also discussed current challenges such as the energy crisis caused by Russian aggression against Ukraine and the bloc's migrant policy, which requires a unique European response, as well as the role of the EU in Latin America and in the Western Balkans.

The Croatian Employers' Association (HUP) claims the new tax which was proposed recently will further discriminate against certain companies and work to punish the most successful

''We're shocked by the government's proposal for a new profit tax because it's discriminatory and puts the most successful companies in Croatia at a disadvantage. This is actually the dishing out of a punishment to the most successful companies in this country, the companies that fill the state budget the most, employ the most people, pay the highest salaries and invest the most," said the Croatian Association of Employers, reacting to the introduction of the new profit tax.

"Companies operating here in Croatia don't have extra earnings, this year's profit barely covers losses from previous years, and it's completely unclear as to why the government is doing this. Ahead of us lies a crisis and recession, the depth of which we don't yet know. What we know is that Croatian companies are cancelling orders left, right and centre and that now we need the strength to survive the recession and let people keep their jobs," they warned from HUP.

"This is a proposal to introduce a tax on taxes, which will certainly stop investment in development, which means that there will be no new jobs or salary growth, and we're once again becoming an unsafe country for business and looking unattractive to investors. Along with Hungary, we're the only country that spreads the tax across the entire economy instead of, as prescribed by the European Commission Regulation, keeping it exclusively to the energy sector, which made an unexpected profit thanks to market disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine," announced HUP.

"HUP cannot support the unjustified discrimination of large companies that this proposal brings. On top of that, this tax cannot be introduced retroactively for the year 2022, when investment and employment plans have already been implemented. This proposal will unjustifiably penalise the most successful Croatian companies, the best employers and the largest investors who and they pay the most into the state budget," said Irena Weber, CEO of HUP.

Instead of introducing yet more new taxes, HUP very concretely advocates a full tax reform and stronger work relief through an increase in the personal tax deduction and a reduction in income tax rates. This is the way to strengthen the economy, attract new investments, increase wages and create new jobs, according to them.

Milanovic and King Felipe talk politics while their wives talk healthcare and the prevention of obesity in children

King Felipe VI of Spain and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic are both satisfied with the bilateral relations between the two European countries, while their wives emphasised the importance of preventing obesity in children for preserving the health of the entire population, according to the press releases published after their meetings in Pantovcak.

The Spanish king was on a two-day official visit to the Republic of Croatia together with Queen Letizia, and after the ceremonial reception at Pantovcak, President Milanovic and his wife Sanja Music Milanovic spoke with the royal pair. The Spanish king and the Croatian president both stated that they are satisfied with the bilateral relations between Croatia and Spain, which are two friendly and allied countries, members of the European Union and NATO.

King Felipe and Milanovic also referred to the close scientific cooperation between the two countries, which is particularly marked by the joint partnership in the aforementioned DONES programme, which the Spanish king also discussed at length with Plenkovic.

The meeting also discussed current European and global topics, including the security crisis in Eastern Europe caused by Russian aggression against Ukraine, while their wives discussed the importance of preventing obesity in children.

Sanja Music Milanovic and Queen Letizia of Spain separately discussed innovative approaches to obesity prevention in children in Croatia, Spain and the entire continent. The importance of obesity prevention in children for preserving the health of the entire population was emphasised and the importance of a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention through a multisectoral set of interventions aimed at all periods of life was emphasised, the press release on the topic stated.

Music Milanovic presented the professional and scientific activities she carries out in this area in Croatia and Europe and announced the upcoming inaugural summit of the spouses of European leaders on the topic of childhood obesity prevention across Europe, which she will jointly organise with the European Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The King and Queen of Spain were, as stated, on their very first official visit to Croatia during the year which marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Croatia and Spain, all with the aim of confirming exceptionally good bilateral relations and providing incentives for their further development.

Croatian authorities still don't know who launched the six-tonne drone which hit Zagreb eight months ago

As news broke about an alleged Russian missile having crossed over into Polish territory, killing two people, our memories return to the drone which struck Zagreb eight months ago. It turns out that the powers that be still have no idea who launched the mysterious drone which crash landed and ended up in pieces. 

The Russians are still claiming that the drone which struck Poland had nothing to do with them, saying all those who are claiming it to be Russian are just trying to provoke. Still, we were all shocked and we went from speculating about a Russian attack on Poland, a NATO country, to thinking about the possibility of a third world war to, what is now increasingly likely, finding out that the missile was in fact Ukrainian.

As a reminder, two people were killed after, as Polish authorities then said, a "Russian-made projectile" fell near the village of Przewodow, about 6.4 kilometres west of the Polish-Ukrainian border, around the same time that Moscow forces launched their largest wave of missile attacks on multiple Ukrainian cities in more than a month.

The circumstances of the incident, including information about who fired the missile and from where it was fired, were unknown, which caused possible speculation about Russian involvement in the event and expectations of NATO's next step following the apparent striking of Poland, a NATO member state. But according to US officials, initial findings suggest that the missile that hit Poland was actually fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian missile.

Three officials told the Associated Press (AP) news agency that the Ukrainians were trying to defend themselves against Russian fire aimed at their electrical infrastructure. This is the event that reminded us of the incident that happened on March the 10th right here in Zagreb, just two weeks after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Then, a strange Soviet-made Tu-141 unmanned aircraft crashed in Zagreb near the "Stjepan Radic" student dormitory. During the fall, the unmanned aircraft crashed into the ground, leaving a crater behind it.

The circumstances behind it all are still unclear, so Index asked DORH recently if it had ever actually been established who had sent that drone into Croatian territory.

"On April the 13th, 2022, the County State Attorney's Office (DORH) in Zagreb, in the presence of experts, held a press conference where they reported on the results of the investigation related to the crash of the drone.

''At the aforementioned press conference, it was stated that the answers to the questions about where the [unmanned] aircraft came from and whose aircraft it was are under the jurisdiction of other bodies, and not under the jurisdiction of the State Attorney's Office," the answer reads. As for the press conference that DORH mentions in the answer, it was said that the drone had Ukrainian colours on it, but also that it was carrying a bomb. "It was undoubtedly established that it was fragments of an OFAB 100-120 aerial bomb," Major Mile Tomic said in a DORH press release back in April, adding that a lighter was also found.

"During the impact, an explosive device did explode, as was evidenced by the creation of a large crater, the scattering of earth and stones, the ejection of fragments from the crater, as well as traces of tearing and hardening of the metal parts of the bomb," said Ivana Bacic, a chief fire and explosion expert.

"The original aerial bomb should contain 40 to 46 kilos of TNT military explosive, which would be characterised by blackening," Bacic noted.

The Zagreb drone incident could therefore have had horrendous consequences, and yet it seems we're none the wiser. By sheer luck, a real tragedy was avoided. When people say the word 'drone', to many people it sounds like a plastic toy or indeed a type of worker bee, but in this case we're dealing with something that weighs six tonnes and was carrying an explosive on it. It fell in the immediate vicinity of the student dormitory and what could have happened doesn't bear thinking about. In spite of all of that, it is still not known who the drone belonged to, how it was launched, or and why.

Back at that time, the drone event stimulated two debates. First, the question arose as to how much protection NATO provides to Croatia in general.

Before entering Croatian territory, the drone flew over two NATO member states, Hungary and Romania, only to crash in the third NATO member state, Croatia, after seven minutes of flight. In those seven minutes, no one reacted, neither the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia nor the Directorate of Civil Protection. NATO did nothing either, and all that lack of action in the then very fresh situation of the shocking Russian invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of war here in Europe once again.

"NATO's integrated air and anti-missile defense followed the flight path of the object that subsequently crashed in Zagreb. The Croatian authorities have announced that they are investigating this incident," said a NATO official at the time.

Second, in parallel with the investigation, there was a debate about whether the drone really had a bomb on it or not. Defense Minister Mario Banozic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic claimed that there was an explosive device in the drone, while a number of experts disputed this. President Zoran Milanovic was also skeptical about the presence of a bomb in the drone, and he was quick to reproach Plenkovic and Banozic for stoking fears.

Even NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg entered the discussion about the explosive device on the drone, and he stated at a press conference that the drone was unarmed. After that, another press conference was called by Prime Minister Plenkovic, who denied his claim, along the way showing photos of parts of the drone that he said belonged to the bomb.

As stated, despite the severity of this incident and all of the potential reasons behind it which are extremely concerning to think about given Russia's actions and the ongoing war over in Ukraine, nobody seems much more in the know then they were back on March the 10th.

Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman says that we will not be training Ukrainian soldiers on Croatian territory

If you recall, Zoran Milanovic was among the loudest in his opposition to this idea, and it seems he is far from alone in his thoughts that supporting Ukraine should be as far as Croatia goes, as we don't want to bring the war to our doorstep. 

"I'm absolutely not going to give my consent. Grlic Radman went to Brussels without my prior consent. There are enough of Plenkovic's mini ministers going up to Brussels without the prior consent of the commander-in-chief, and it isn't going to carry on that way. Grlic Radman is nobody and nothing, Plenkovic is actually important here, but he went and pushed himself to the front row like a dumb nerd,"  Milanovic said about the Minister of Foreign Affairs, once again using another opportunity to sling mud and throw insults around.

Grlic Radman also said later today that there will be no training of Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia, and he remained polite and professional in his wording.

"What Croatia can offer, it will offer. Is it the training of Ukrainian soldiers on our territory? No, no it isn't, it will be on the territory of some other EU member states that have offered. However, the countries in which that might take place still haven't been determined,'' Grlic Radman said in an interview with RTL Danas/Today.

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section and keep your eyes peeled for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 11 November 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Fortenova, Foster Parents and Schengen

November the 11th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from still apparently not really knowing what's going on with Sberbank's shares in Fortenova and talk of the alleged Croatian desire to squash corruption, to more cash for foster parents, a blast from the past with COVID-19 and of course, Croatia's Schengen approval.

The Croatian Government is seeking additional financial help from the European Union following the coronavirus pandemic

With the utterly dire situation being faced by Ukraine following Russian invasion early this year and inflation causing us to have to dig deeper and deeper to make ends meet, the global coronavirus pandemic which rocked the world in 2020 almost seems like a distant memory. The government however is still working on patching up the enormous holes it left in the state budget and now wants additional financial help from the powers that be in Brussels.

Assistance in the amount of 550 million euros from the SURE instrument will be sought by the Croatian Government, and with the decision it recently made on that, it also obliged state-owned companies to pay 60 percent of last year's net profit into the state budget for the year 2022.

Taking into account the increase in public expenditures by 2.2 billion euros from February the 1st, 2020 to the end of April, 2022 due to national measures taken to address the socioeconomic consequences of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Croatia decided to request additional financial assistance from the SURE Instrument in the amount of 550 million euros, stated Finance Minister Marko Primorac, noting that the SURE Instrument (a European Union instrument for the issuing of temporary support to reduce the risk of unemployment in an emergency situation) provides extremely favourable financing conditions.

He also stated that on October the 25th, 2022, the Council of the EU adopted an amendment to the Implementing Decision of the Council, which approved Croatia's request for additional financial assistance to be paid out in the amount of 550 million euros.

European Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi says there is a will to stamp out corruption in Croatia

Laura Codruta Kovesi stated that corruption can unfortunately be found absolutely everywhere and there are no "clean" countries anywhere in Europe. She added that Croatia is showing its willingness to uncover and investigate criminal acts that harm the financial interests of the European Union.

"There's a myth that I would like to dispel today. If Croatia or Bulgaria or Romania have more cases of corruption that come to light than some other EU member state, it doesn't mean that these countries are more corrupt than others. There is no 'clean' country in Europe. Corruption is everywhere," said Europe's chief prosecutor.

"Here in Croatia, I see the will to uncover these criminal acts, to investigate them, and I think that is very important because when we talk about corruption and the fight against financial fraud, how the authorities position themselves is very important. If they sweep everything under the rug and don't uncover any cases, it doesn't mean that things are clean. I think the number of cases shows that there is political will... And that everyone is doing an excellent job," she pointed out.

She said that all cases are equally important, whether they involve ministers or ordinary people, because everyone is equal before the law and investigations into corruption are conducted in the same way. More than 1,200 cases of corruption are now under investigation by the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), but she said she couldn't talk about them publicly and couldn't comment on individual cases and cases which are currently under investigation.

It is estimated that the loss from VAT fraud, especially related to organised crime, amounts to 60 billion euros annually across the EU. In the first year of the EPPO's operations, criminal assets worth 250 million euros were confiscated. The EPPO's annual budget otherwise stands at a massive 44 million euros.

The Fortenova saga continues, and it has now come to light that the Dutch court never gave its approval for the sale of Sberbank's Fortenova shares to anyone

The competent Dutch court did not approve the sale of Sberbank's stake in Fortenova to an investor from the United Arab Emirates, claims the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stating that permission was neither sought or issued at any point.

The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an answer to the question of whether the Dutch authorities had given approval for the above transaction. They received an answer that permission was never requested, nor was it issued.

The MVEP states that the ministries will cooperate in order to determine all of the relevant information regarding the violation of the EU sanctions regime which has caused this scandal. It should be noted that the approval for the sale of Sberbank's 43 percent stake in Fortenova was not even given by the competent authorities right here in Croatia.

According to the EU regulation, a possible exemption can be provided for such transactions in the event that the competent authority of that EU member state grants its approval, but considering that the competent authorities here in Croatia and up the Netherlands have not done this, it is likely that the mystery surrounding the Fortenova saga will continue.

The police contact the State Attorney's Office of the Republic of Croatia in regard to the Fortenova situation

Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic recently confirmed that the police have approached the State Attorney's Office of the Republic of Croatia (DORH) regarding the sale of Sberbank's shares in Fortenova. He also pointed out that at the stage when the Council for the Implementation of Sanctions is in session and they are collecting all the necessary information, nobody can give any concrete answers.

When asked if the Arab investor to whom Sberbank sold its stake in Fortenova is coming to Croatia and if there will be a meeting in the government, Bozinovic repeated that he did not know and that there were many things that needed to be investigated and clarified before he could speak on anything.

When asked if the government had received SOA's report on Fortenova, he said that SOA regularly reports to the state and institutions about this and other such matters. When asked repeatedly whether he had received information from the SOA, he answered in the affirmative, but added that he could not reveal anything at this moment in time.

The government increases allowances paid out to foster parents 

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stated at a recent government session that by increasing the basis for calculating the compensation to be paid out to foster parents and maintenance allowance for the year 2023, an additional step forward will be made for 2,504 Croatian foster parents.

"We are making an additional step forward for 2,504 foster parents and 5,838 beneficiaries in foster families," Plenkovic said, adding that this is a continuation of the increase in financial resources being poured into the field of foster care.

The government provides 160.5 million kuna in EU cash for the construction of a new port terminal in Osijek

The Croatian Government recently secured state co-financing in the amount of 160.5 million kuna for the construction of a bulk cargo transshipment terminal in the Port of Osijek. Government decisions have as such given consent to the Port Authority of Osijek to assume obligations at the expense of the state budget throughout 2023, 2024 and 2025 in the total amount of 160.5 million kuna.

Back in September this year, the Board of Directors of the Osijek Port Authority made a decision to enter into a contract for the construction of a new port terminal with GH Holding from neighbouring Slovenia. The value of the works was determined in the total amount of 143.5 million kuna without VAT, or 179.3 million kuna with VAT, with a deadline of 28 months.

The financial resources needed to settle the anticipated contractual obligations have been secured from the European Cohesion Fund and the State Budget of the Republic of Croatia for 2022 and projections for the years 2023 and 2024.

The new terminal for transshipment of bulk cargo in Osijek will be located on the right bank of the Drava River in the eastern part of the port area, and it will include two new connections spanning a length of 240 metres, the installation of facilities for the transshipment, loading and unloading and transport of goods, an access road which will be 300 metres long, railway tracks with a length of 610 metres, crane tracks and roads with a length of 285 metres, a substation and the construction of the necessary communal infrastructure, according to the State Secretary in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, Josip Bilaver.

The construction of the brand new Osijek port terminal will reduce traffic congestion in the city centre and the negative impact on the environment and noise, and the safety of ships in the port will increase, he added.

Croatia is given the nod to join Schengen by the European Parliament

Last but by absolutely no means least, the moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived and Croatia has been given the final nod from the powers that be to join the Schengen zone at long last. This is certainly a moment HDZ is likely to run with as a scamp of their perceived success in Croatian politics.

In his opening address at a recently held government session, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that the European Parliament had just voted for Croatia's entry into Schengen.

"We are very satisfied with the presentation of the Commissioner, that is, the Vice-President of the EC, who gave very clear and strong support. There were 534 votes in favour of Croatia's membership of the Schengen zone," said the Prime Minister, congratulating Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic and the whole team who have been leading the activities to push for Croatian Schengen accession for the past few years.

"We are moving towards the final steps of the final adoption at the level of the EU Council on December the 8th" said the Prime Minister, adding that "with this, in addition to the decisions already made regarding membership in the Eurozone, Croatia will complete its two goals of deeper integration within the EU with both Schengen and Eurozone entry as of the 1st of January, 2023.

"These are such major capital foreign policy state goals that have now finally been realised, and in the years ahead we will have the opportunity to talk about the fruits of Croatia's additional international positioning," he said.

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 4 November 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Arab Investors, Marijuana and Pay Rises

November the 4th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from investors purchasing stakes in Croatian companies that apparently nobody knew anything about, attempts to legalise marijuana, hopes for neighbouring countries to become EU member states, Italians and more drama regarding Zoran Milanovic.

Fortenova claims it was unaware of the approval of the sale of Sberbank's stake to an investor from the UAE, the government says it knew nothing, either

Ever heard of Saik Alketbi? Nobody here has either. The name cropped up for apparently the first time this week in Croatia after the sale of the Russian Sberbank's stake in this massive Croatian company was sold to him. The government also claims it has absolutely no idea about any of this either. To be more specific, a 43.4% stake has been sold to the Arab investor without any approval, with the transaction having been completed on the final day of October this year.

Sberbank, which is the biggest shareholder in Fortenova, is currently under international sanctions due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and it seems that the company hasn't even been officially notified of this stake sale, which is not only difficult to believe but extremely odd. It's worth recalling that the first would-have-been buyer of Sberbank's stake in the company was Indotek from neighbouring Hundary, but it failed in its quest as it didn't get the necessary approvals. The second attempt at a purchase was made by pension funds, but the transaction was halted.

''Sberbank's assets are under sanctions and their sale requires the issuance of all of the necessary approvals by the authorities in charge of implementing those sanctions,” Fortenova said in its statement on this rather bizarre matter.

“Fortenova has no information that further approvals to buy Sberbank's stake have been issued and therefore we don't see how a valid sale could have gone through. Besides, following the pension funds, there has been no due diligence of the company. If sanctions [those against Russia, which encompass Sberbank] have been violated, then a crime has been committed and the company has not participated in it,” Fortenova stated.

Multiple politicians have voiced their views on this topic, believing that something extremely strange has gone on. Politicial figures from the opposition (read not HDZ) are frothing at the mouth at this new opportunity to tear HDZ a new one, stating that it is impossible that after the initial Agrokor scandal from 2017 and now this latest charade with INA, claiming ''they don't know anything about it'' is an excuse which is wearing thin for HDZ.

Marijuana isn't addictive, claims parliamentarian when discussing the new on the substance

Ivana Posavec Krivec (social democrats) has stated that marijuana doesn't lead to addiction. Posavec Krivec's party was the one to propose a new law on exploiting the full potential of hemp in Croatia.

"The use of marijuana isn't harmful, it doesn't lead to addiction, this isn't a question of the use of hard drugs," Ivana Posavec Krivec said in Croatian Parliament during the recent debate on the proposed law of her party. With this, she responded to HDZ's Luka Brcic, who believes that this bill would create an atmosphere where people believe that the use of marijuana is not harmful, which, he believes, isn't the case. He stressed that like any drug, it can be especially harmful for children and young people. HDZ's Mladen Karlic also made sure to warn that the proposed law stipulates that every adult can grow nine flowering female plants for their own needs, which, in his opinion, flings the door wide open for the completely free enjoyment of marijuana and "the entry of drug tourism into Croatia". On top of that, he thinks such a move would result in a significantly higher number of marijuana users.

Posavec Krivec explained that research into marijuana has shown that the cultivation of nine female hemp plants is the amount needed to produce everything needed to relieve pain in seriously ill patients who are using it for relief. She claims that properly legalising and regulating this would prevent such people doing things under the table and purchasing impure things on the market, and it would help boost the domestic economy too. The proposers of the law, Posavec Krivec and Vesna Nadj, both pointed out that hemp has an exceptional economic potential because more than 25,000 different products are produced from it.

"The Club of Social Democrats believes that Croatia must not be at the tail end of European and global trends in the legalisation and liberalisation of hemp in order to exploit its full potential. Croatia must be a country that will be a leader in exploiting all of this plant's significant potential through this law,'' Nadj stated.

PM Andrej Plenkovic says it is in Croatia's interest for its neigbouring countries to join the European Union (EU)

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (HDZ) stated after the meeting at the Western Balkans Summit 2022 in the German capital of Berlin that it is very much in the Republic of Croatia's interest that all countries in its immediate neighbourhood become members of the European Union, and he praised Germany's efforts in reviving the Berlin process.

"The meeting was very good. I think it's excellent that Chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to continue this initiative that Chancellor Angela Merkel started back in 2014," Plenkovic said after the summit ended. Croatia's energy potential and issues with the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina were also discussed at the summit.

The Croatian Government finally came to a decision to increase the salaries taken home by those employed in public and state services

The government finally adopted some formal conclusions at a recent session, and the assumption now is that for about 240,000 employees in the public and state sector, their basic salaries and other material rights will be increased in this and the next year. According to the agreement which was finally (and somewhat painfully) reached last Wednesday by the trade unions and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, salaries for employees in the public and state sectors will increase by six percent from October the 1st this year and by two percent from April the 1st next year.

The plan is also to increase Christmas bonuses from 1,500 kuna to 1,750 kuna, among other similar increases. Out of a total of 11 public and state service unions that were involved in negotiations with the government regarding the base increase of late, nine unions accepted the government's offer, meaning that the conditions for signing the addendum were met because the government's offer was supported by unions that have more than 50 percent of the total number of members of all unions that participated in the negotiations, as well as unions from at least three of the five areas that were negotiated.

The government's offer was still not accepted by the Preporod trade union and the Independent Trade Union of employees in science and higher education, considering that it was an insufficient salary increase for them considering the inflationary pressures we're currently all dealing with.

A six percent increase in the base will cost the state 600 million kuna, and it will be provided through budget rebalancing and redistribution, while a two percent increase will require a slightly lesser sum of 500 million kuna. Plenkovic said that the agreement with the unions testifies that they reached an agreement through a high-quality and open dialogue with the leaders of the unions, which confirmed the government's commitment to social dialogue and the strengthening of social partnership. Plenkovic also stated that their end goal is to support workers and employees as much as possible.

President Zoran Milanovic (SDP) wasn't invited to an important war anniversary

As All Saints' Day was marked, many delegations were present at Zagreb's Mirogoj cemetery. Wreaths were laid and candles were lit by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Minister of Croatian Veterans Tomo Medved, Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic, and the President of the Croatian Parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic.

"These are the days when we remember the dead with sadness and reverence, especially those who lost their lives during the Homeland War. Over these days, we also think about the suffering of others that we observe, especially over in Ukraine. I hope that all this week, and in all of Croatia's cemeteries, a dignified atmosphere will take hold, and that we'll all remember those who are no longer among us in peace and quiet," said Nina Obuljen Korzinek, Minister of Culture and Media.

"We urge that anniversaries are not misused for political purposes,'' she stated when asked if the tragic anniversary of the Vukovar massacre later this month will end up being  misused for political purposes by certain individuals and groups in Croatian politics.

"What we as a government do and say is aimed exclusively at coming together [to remember]. If someone creates an agenda on divisions, I think people will recognise that, and Minister Tomo Medved clearly emphasised that we as a nation are facing one of the saddest months of the year, especially for the people of Vukovar, Skabrnja and other Croatian cities which suffered heavy casualties back in 1991. We always call for us to come together in silence, with dignity, and that neither anniversaries nor commemorations be misused for any political goals, especially those that cause unrest, discord and divisions in society."

Commenting on the situation with Milanovic not being invited to an important anniversary, Obuljen Korzinek said that "nobody is boycotting anyone".

"We're doing our job responsibly. There are actors in society who only and exclusively have an agenda of inciting hatred, throwing out unacceptable theses and narratives, people will be quick to recognise that. I think that especially from this place we should call for dignity in our behaviour, but also in public communication,'' she said.

The minister didn't want to directly comment on the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the liberation of southern Croatia, to which President Milanovic was not invited. She briefly and simply said that no one would face any issues because of it.

Plenkovic meets with the Italians in Pula, stating that he wants to further strengthen Croatian-Italian relations going forward

During his recent stay in Pula, Plenkovic with representatives of the Italian Union and emphasised their great commitment to maintain and further develop the culture and identity of their national community in these areas.

"The cooperation between the government, the Italian Union and Istria County as a whole can serve as an excellent example for all other national communities across Croatia. We also discussed the framework of our cooperation today, noting that there is a special chapter in the government's operational plan that concerns the activities of national communities," said Plenkovic adding that the goal of both Croatia and Italy is to strengthen their relations and level of mutual cooperation.

The president of the Italian Union, Maurizio Tremul, expressed his satisfaction with the conversation he'd had with the Croatian prime minister, noting that they discussed a number of topics aimed at improving the position of members of the Italian minority population across Istria, and thanked the Prime Minister for the government's support for the Italian national community.

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 28 October 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Schengen, Slovenia, Ukraine and Nancy Pelosi

October the 28th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had everything from insults, Slovenia's opinions on Croatian Schengen entry and wage increase proposals to healthcare reforms, Milanovic's latest actions, and Nancy Pelosi.

The Croatian Health Insurance Fund's HDZ boss referred to Croats as arrogant in his speech about healthcare not being free

The director of the HZZO, HDZ member Lucian Vukelic has referred to Croats as arrogant because "they think healthcare is free". The HDZ member at HZZO's helm also made sure to refer to himself as somewhat arrogant, too, just for good measure.

"We have a lot of relatives in America, as soon as you see them, they say: 'Thank God I'm healthy'. They say that because healthcare costs serious money in America. In America, you pay for your healthcare out of your own pocket. Our people here are arrogant, and I must say that even I was arrogant, people in Croatia say 'it's free'. It's not free. Healthcare in Croatia isn't free, healthcare in Croatia also costs money," he said.

Vukelic failed to really explain what the point of saying any of that actually was, but he seemed to imply that there is a widespread opinion across Croatia that healthcare somehow doesn't cost money. Moreover, Vukelic himself said that a third of Croats who work annually pay 26 billion kuna from their wages for basic health insurance, so they certainly know that healthcare isn't free.

Of course, there's also the question of what we actually get out of this healthcare we're paying for, which HDZ member Vukelic claims is expensive. It would perhaps be okay if, given that Vukelic is already more than happy to admit that we all pay dearly for our healthcare, he explained why every now and then people are forced to collect money for their treatment, why pregnant women sometimes have to take their own toilet paper to maternity hospitals with them, why the waiting times for often basic examinations are so long and why medical staff are leaving Croatia.

Only later, when asked by a journalist about his statement, did the HDZ member try to justify himself by calling himself arrogant as well, which is absolutely true, but it is also true that he called other people arrogant with the thesis that "our people say that healthcare is free", which honestly, they don't. When they see how much of their wage is shaved off for it each month, they definitely do not.

A man who takes home a monthly salary of over 18,000 kuna, who drives a 300,000 kuna Mercedes, who has an official car, who owned a 150,000 kuna 2001 Harley Davidson until 2019 and who claims his ''communication skills are excellent'' but makes sexist remarks on a TV show (Otvoreno) about women talking a lot should perhaps quiet down before calling others arrogant.

On the topic of healthcare, Health Minister Vili Beros has announced reforms to the system

Beros has presented his healthcare reform package, and it's extensive. Preventative examinations will be introduced, with pilot projects beginning next year in two Croatian counties, the number of specialisations in primary healthcare will be widened, there will be revisions for national preventative programmes for malignant diseases, a focus will be placed on melanoma, hospital system changes are set to come in, and there will be an emergency helicopter service fully established and up and running (or flying) by 2024.

This is just a little bit of what was presented and discussed. You can read more details in this article.

Are Croatia and Slovenia set to start falling out over Schengen entry?

The topic of Croatian Schengen entry is hotting up as the country's Eurozone accession rapidly approaches, but is neighbouring Slovenia ready to throw yet another spanner in the works? 

An expert in European Union law from the Faculty of Law in Maribor, Janja Hojnik, was a recent guest of Novi Dan on N1 where Croatia's entry into Schengen, among other things, was discussed. Hojnik noted that, as far as it seems, the Slovenian Government has not decided to block Croatia's entry into Schengen in any way.

"It has been determined that it is a mutual benefit for Croatia to enter the Schengen zone. The plan is for Slovenia to also ratify the agreement on Croatia's entry into Schengen," she said. She also commented on the announcement, which was published yesterday in the Ljubljana-based newspaper Delo, that Slovenia will issue a unilateral note stating that Croatia, by entering the Schengen area, accepts the arbitration ruling which was reached in the past regarding a territorial dispute.

"Recently, I was on Slovenian television and they asked two ministers for their comments on those statements and one minister said that it was all misinformation, and the Minister of Justice said that the Government hadn't even commented on it and that she knew nothing about it, that this statement should be confirmed in parliament, and there is no information from the Foreign Policy Committee about it. We can only speculate whether it will be brought to the Slovenian Government itself or to parliament. I think it would be a little unusual if it were inserted into the Act on Ratification. This is not the norm and the European Commission would probably ask Slovenia what it all means. I don't think that ratification with this condition is possible. I don't see any legal consequences to this. Such a statement can't be part of European Union law, and it doesn't have any legal consequences even in international law,'' explained Hojnik.

When speaking about the arbitration agreement between Slovenia and Croatia, she said that the task of politics is to resolve relations between neighbours, not to deepen them.

"I'd like Slovenia and Croatia to solve this problem themselves, without any external factors getting involved. Schengen is probably the last thing where Slovenia could have a veto. It is in Slovenia's interest that they aren't on an external border. I see it as the responsibility of politics to find an agreement,'' she said.

Plenkovic says he's going to regulate work on Sundays and raise the minimum wage. Again.

PM Andrej Plenkovic recently discussed the state of the economy, ongoing inflation, the consequences of the global coronavirus pandemic and of course, Russian aggression against Ukraine. Digitalisation and the green transition, two topics that keep coming up, were also touched on. Perhaps what attracted the most attention of all, however, were the discussions on banning (or should I say regulating) work on Sundays (remember that?) and of course, talk of raising the minumum wage. If you've spent any time following the domestic political scene, neither of the aforementioned and farily worn out topics will come as a surprise to you.

"We're going to regulate work on Sundays and the minimum wage will go up,'' says Plenkovic, who announced that his government would make several steps forward in both this and in other regards in the coming weeks. "We'll regulate work on Sundays and we've come up with a rational, well-balanced proposal," Plenkovic assured, adding that the minimum wage will also increase from next year to 4,220 kuna net, and a proposal for an additional tax on extra profits is being prepared in order to more fairly share the burden of the ongoing crisis. He also announced the continuation of the social dialogue with the trade unions, with whom intense conversations have been happening of late.

He noted that in just two months, the Republuc of Croatia will be among the fifteen countries in the world that are in NATO, the European Union, Schengen and the Eurozone, and that negotiations with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been launched.

Plenkovic uses yet another opportunity to troll President Zoran Milanovic (SDP)

If you've spent any time in the City of Zagreb over the last few days, you'll have noticed that getting anywhere by road proved impossible for about 48 hours. The Crimea Platform Summit was being held right here in the Croatian capital, and for road users, the problems were very much in evidence. Plenkovic recently discussed how this extremely significant summit went, making no effort to hide his satisfaction with how it unfolded, and once again offering words of support to Ukraine.

It didn't stop there. If you follow Croatian politics, you'll know that Andrej Plenkovic (HDZ) and Zoran Milanovic (SDP), the Prime Minister and the President of Croatia, make sure to miss no chance to insult or troll each other, and this was no exception. Plenkovic made sure to make his feelings clear on Milanovic's earlier comments about Nancy Pelosi and the aforementioned summit.

"I think you're more than aware of just how important, useful and excellent an event like this that we organised actually is for the courageous, correct and moral foreign policy of the Croatian Government. This topic of whether or not someone went to Makarska just isn't the subject of my interest. He can explain that one himself,'' Plenkovic said, referencing Milanovic having gone to the aforementioned part of Central Dalmatia.

''I guess you can see who has been saying what over the past few years. I don't know what sort of rally he'll decide to go to, maybe he'll go to one Russia organises. Mrs. Pelosi didn't waste her time on irrelevant things, and neither did we," Prime Minister Plenkovic concluded, having made a very clear jab at Milanovic with the Russia comment. Gordan Grlic Radman, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also touched on the topic of Milanovic, claiming that ''people are calling and asking what Croatia's position actually is'' in regard to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Nancy Pelosi praises Croatia for its humanity towards Ukraine and refers to the country as a leader in the diversification of energy sources

Nany Pelosi said that Croatia could offer Ukraine a lot owing to its relatively recent experience of war, and she also said that this country is a leader in the diversification of energy sources. Pelosi issued a warning that energy has become a means of blackmail in Russia's horrendous aggression against Ukraine, before thanking Croatia and Plenkovic for their leadership in the field of energy.

"Croatia is a small enough country to be resilient, but big enough to be significant in terms of security, democracy, peace and values," Pelosi believes, adding that the diversification of energy sources is helping to save planet Earth. Plenkovic said that with the construction of the LNG terminal on Krk, Croatia has now ''finally resolved" a four-decade-long debate in energy circles and that by deciding to increase its capacity, the government has "enabled Croatia to become an energy hub'' for natural gas.

Pelosi also said that the Croatian capital is the "perfect" place for the summit to be held, emphasising the very strong Croatian-Ukrainian friendship and the help that Zagreb continually provides to Kyiv as it goes through such terrible times.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section, and keep an eye out for our A Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published each Friday.

Friday, 21 October 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Gas, Energy Drinks, Hospitals and Milanovic

October the 21st, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics saw everything from hopes of energy drink bans, the Russian media writing about Milanovic and former government ministers getting new jobs to gas prices, wage proposals and hospital construction plans.

MEP Biljana Borzan (SDP) thinks the Health Ministry and the Croatian Government should ban the sale of potentially dangerous energy drinks to minors

How many kids need to suffer the health consequences of consuming energy drinks before the government steps in and does something about it? Borzan asks, referencing the horrific case in which a twelve year old suffered a stroke.

"I've been warning people about this problem for years, I've submitted a proposal two times for a legal ban through Croatian parliament, but the Minister of Health and the government don't even care about it," said Borzan, recalling another energy-drink related death, this time of a thirteen year-old in Zagreb.

"I ask them, how many more children need to be harmed for you to do something about this? Whose interests are you defending with this carelessness and inaction?" asked Borzan. The MEP also pointed out that research shows that children and young people are increasingly drinking energy drinks, which are harmful to them in many ways, and a large number of children claim that they drink them because they need energy, which is of enormous concern.

On top of that, the very adult trend of mixing energy drinks with alcoholic beverages is also beginning to make an appearance among younger generations. Borzan believes the fact that energy drinks are even being consumed by kids should result in a ban on selling them to minors, but given the fact that kids are also mixing them with alcohol, nobody should be in two minds about the next move.

Koncar speaks out about employing controversial former government minister Darko Horvat, saying everything was strictly above board

Koncar rather surprisingly announced the employment of the former Minister of Spatial Planning, Construction and State Property, Darko Horvat, recently. Just keep in mind that Darko Horvat had to step down from his position as a minister within Plenkovic's government because of alleged corruption.

Koncar has stressed that despite the fact that they have employed a minister who had to step down, everything was done correctly and Horvat was selected for the position thanks to his qualifications as a graduate electrical engineer.

"Owing to the recent retirement of an engineer who strategically participated in technical and commercial work related to the field of electricity distribution, a job opening was announced as we were seeking an electrical engineer with significant operational experience in that area. Mr. Horvat was selected as a graduate electrical engineer with extensive experience in the field of electricity distribution, including experience in the field of business at both the Croatian and international level.

During the initial media announcements, incorrect information was circulating claiming that Darko Horvat was set to hold the position of adviser to Koncar's Management Board. In reality, his field of activity will be focused exclusively on the field of electrical distribution, Koncar stated.

After his resignation, Horvat activated what's known as the 6+6 option.

On February the 19th, when he was first arrested, Darko Horvat resigned from his position and activated the 6+6 option, which legally prevents him from being appointed to management positions within companies with which his former ministry or government cooperated. It isn't actually prohibited under the law for him to receive a fee for providing consulting services to or within a company in which the state has a three percent ownership. Koncar is 80 percent owned by Croatia's pension funds, the head of which is HDZ member Gordan Kolak.

Economy Minister Davor Filipovic has stated that there will be no shortage of gas for the Croatian market this winter, despite talks of the opposite being the case

It seems like all we're talking about recently is the spiralling price of gas and energy, and while the Croatian Government recently came to the decision that INA would sell all the gas produced here in Croatia to HEP, it turned out that this was simply not possible. INA has seven contracts that cannot be terminated. Minister Davor Filipovic commented on the situation.

''There's going to be enough gas, and that Croatian gas is going to be provided to all hospitals, schools, kindergartens and all institutions at a price of 41 euros. The government made a decision recently that is heading in that direction,'' said the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Davor Filipovic, adding that the most important thing is that Croatian gas goes solely to Croatian institutions.

"It's known that we ordered INA to increase gas production by 10 percent. As for the change in the regulation, for seven customers there are fixed contracts that cannot be terminated unilaterally, to unilaterally terminate would be more harm than good and termination would mean those customers launching lawsuits against INA, and then INA would sue us. That's why we made that exception, and as soon as those contracts are finished, INA will be obliged to transfer all of the rest of that gas to HEP," explained Filipovic.

He noted that distributors who have experienced losses will be able to buy their gas from HEP, adding that both INA and MOL have taken a huge hit to their reputations owing to the recently exposed affair.

The Croatian Government offered teachers higher wages, but the Croatian Teachers' Union rejected their proposal for the second time

The Grand Council of the Croatian Teachers' Union unanimously rejected the Croatian Government's latest offer on wage increases which came to light on October the 18th. The new offer was deemed unacceptable because it wasn't even aimed at securing a greater increase in the base rate compared to their previous offer, but only at a different dynamic of the payment of the previously proposed increase in the base rate, the Croatian Teachers' Union announced when explaining the reasons behind their rejection.

"Increasing the amount we get for Christmas bonuses, holiday allowance and other such things can't compensate for the growth of the base rate or solve the issue of the salary lag either this year or next year. Therefore, the new offer was rejected,'' they stated.

The government initially offered the unions an increase in the salary base rate by four percent from October the 1st and two percent from April the 1st next year, but the unions refused to accept it. At the second meeting, they received a new offer, which was also binned.

Public service unions have been asking for an 8 percent increase in the base starting on October the 1st this year and another 5 percent starting on January the 1st, 2023.

Russian media discuss Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, claiming he has "admitted that NATO is partaking in the war in Ukraine" in his rejection of the idea of Croatia training Ukrainian soldiers

Recently, Milanovic stated that he isn't familiar with the idea of ​​European foreign ministers to train 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers here in Europe, but that upon hearing of it, he "doesn't support it".

"I don't support that idea because I don't support involving Croatia in this war more than it should be. It's bringing the war to Croatia. We stand in solidarity [with Ukraine] and that's as far as it should go," he said.

The Russian media were of course quick to twist Milanovic's statement and beliefs and have written extensively about how Croatian President Zoran Milanovic apparently ''opposes the training of militants". The Russian state news agency, TASS, reported his statements, and the RIA Novosti agency added that Milanovic had previously "emphasised that Russia and Croatia have become enemy states and had expressed concern about this fact." Russian Interfax writes that, according to the media, the Croatian Government had offered EU training for Ukrainian soldiers.

Regnum writes that Milanovic opposes the "training of Kyiv militants in Croatia" and that he doesn't support "any excessive interference in conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine." Regnum also claimed that former Croatian football player and national team member Tomislav Dujmovic said around one week ago that Milanovic was ''on Russia's side'' and that he is ''observing the Russian-Ukrainian conflict more objectively than Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic is''.

Milanovic opposed the training of Ukrainian soldiers, but also the sending of weapons to Ukraine because of the danger that the Croatian Army itself would run out of weapons, MKRU writes. Milanovic would agree to send weapons to Ukraine if Croatia is compensated, they added, before the Iz.ru made the strange statement that ''Milanovic has confirmed that NATO is participating in this conflict.''

Milanovic's statements were also reported by Kommersant, which focused instead on the statement that the training of Ukrainian soldiers would represent Croatia's interference in the war in Ukraine. Ruska Gazeta wrote that, in addition to Zoran Milanovic, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto also rejected the idea of Europe training Ukrainian fighters.

Transport Minister Oleg Butkovic claims that "Croatia is much more successful in comparison to some other EU member states''

On a recent episode of the radio show ''And now for the government/A sada Vlada", the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Oleg Butkovic said that the Croatian Government has successfully dealt with some major challenges over the last six years, adding that they expect the growth of the Croatian economy in 2023, as in the last year, to be higher than the EU average.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic submitted the annual report on his government's work to the Parliament, which outlined economic growth of around 6 percent and the continuation of aid measures towards both people and companies throughout these challenging and in some cases truly unprecedented times.

"A very challenging year is now behind us, last year we achieved the third highest growth in the entire European Union and due to growth of 10.2 percent, we brought two packages into force with a total value of 26 billion kuna. In order get through this energy crisis as best as possible, the government also undertook a lot. Peljesac Bridge was finally completed and put into function, and on January the 1st, 2023, we'll finally enter the Eurozone and Schengen," Oleg Butkovic said during his time on the aforementioned radio programme.

He added that these are major developments, noting that they have at their disposal a package of 25 billion euros from the National Resilience Programme and a new financial envelope.

"We're ensuring not only reforms but the continuation of investments, and this opens up possibilities for this country's economic growth to be above the EU average in 2023 as well. The situation is good," stated the minister.

"Compared to other EU countries, Croatia has been much more successful," he believes.

The topic of the construction of the Blato hospital has reared its head once again, with the Health Ministry claiming that works will begin in two years

The construction of the National Children's Hospital in Blato (Zagreb) should begin in 2024, and in the coming weeks the call for tenders for the preparation of the conceptual design will begin, the Ministry of Health announced, emphasising that it will be the first hospital in the City of Zagreb to be located south of the Sava River.

This greenfield project worth around 300 million euros will be financed from the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience and other forms of European Union (EU) funding. The new children's hospital will span an area of ​​100,000 square metres in total, and construction is planned in two phases. About 50 thousand square metres of gross area will be built in each phase.

As far as land agreements with the City of Zagreb go, in the implementation of this strategic project, the Ministry of Health and the City of Zagreb are continuously holding working meetings in order to realise the transfer of city land in Blato through partnership cooperation, with the condition of the final and complete construction of the hospital. At the last working meeting in the Ministry of Health with the City of Zagreb, property and legal issues that need to be resolved were discussed.

Given that this will be the very first Zagreb hospital to be situated south of the Sava, he realisation of the Blato hospital project represents a significant contribution to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as all of its energy would come from renewable sources. It will also represent a big step forward in the territorial availability of healthcare services not only for the residents of the Croatian capital but also for everyone coming to Zagreb for treatment, especially from the south of the country.

''Although it seems that the road to the new Blato hospital will be a very long one, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that the idea and desire to embark on this demanding project took even longer. Despite the two-year battle with the global coronavirus pandemic and all of the other challenges that have since come to pass, the government and the Ministry of Health are taking the proper steps in order to successfully realise this strategic project for the healthcare system, which will provide the highest quality healthcare for children in Zagreb and all of Croatia,'' the Ministry of Health stated.

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section and our Week in Croatian politics articles which will be published every Friday.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Minister Piletić Talks Government Measures, Amendments to Labour Act

September 14, 2022 - The Minister of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy, Marin Piletić, was a guest on Croatian Radio's show "A Sada Vlada”, where he discussed the government measures of help for the upcoming winter, as well as the changes to the Labour Act.

As Poslovni writes, he commented on the Government's package of measures to help businesses and citizens.

“Part of the package encompasses measures from our department, but the largest part is concerned with HEP, where the government has enabled many to pay a price that is not market but artificially created. A good number of entrepreneurs pay the price for electricity that households do. Also, all social care institutions from the category of entrepreneurship will pay for electricity like households, Minister Piletić said.

He pointed out that there is no category that they did not include, from farmers, fishermen, students, beneficiaries of child benefits, pensioners...

“When it comes to pensioners, the Government has intervened for the third time in just a year and a half with a one-time cash supplement for those with lower monthly incomes. Not only did we raise the grade level, but we also increased the pension threshold that can receive a one-time supplement. Also, one of our goals was to raise the lowest pensions by three percent from January 1, 2025. By intervening in the final bill, we made it so that the percentage increase of the lowest pensions does not wait for 2025, but starts on January 1, 2023, he said.

Measures for the unemployed

He added that they included the unemployed for the first time.

“Those who were on the labour exchange before September 1 will receive a quarterly cash supplement of HRK 250 in the next three months. It has been shown that the government intervenes at the right time, that the package is strong and comprehensive, and most of all fair. We must protect all categories of citizens, especially those with lower incomes”, he emphasized.

When asked if he expects an increase in the number of unemployed since the tourist season is coming to an end, Minister Piletić said that the number of unemployed increases slightly after each tourist season, but that they do not expect the number to grow alarmingly.

“We are at record low unemployment rates. The number is around 110,000 registered. This is significantly less than at the beginning of this government's mandate”, he said.

He also referred to the amendments to the Labour Act.

“The percentage of workers who work on a fixed-term contract is decreasing from year to year, which we are satisfied with, we have reached a kind of European average, but we still have a large number of short-term contracts. That is why we are introducing the novelty of limiting fixed-term contracts to a maximum of three years and a maximum of three contracts”.

“He pointed out that one of the key innovations is platform work”, i.e. work from home.

“The employer can come to the employee's home and see what kind of conditions he is working in, with prior notice and the worker's consent”.

“There was a proposal that there be no notice period or severance pay for workers over the age of 65 and 15 years of service unless the worker and the employer agree otherwise. Here we wanted to encourage employers that after reaching the age of 65 if the worker wants to stay working and meets all the conditions for a pension, that the employer is not obligated to pay severance pay. Someone who fulfils the conditions for a pension will not be neglected, but will receive a pension and then the employer is not obliged to pay severance pay. This way, we stimulate both the employer and the employee, so that if they wish, they can stay longer in the world of work, but we have left it up to the employer and the employee to agree”.

Increasing wages in the public sector

Minister Piletić said that the negotiations have not started yet, and that at the next government session, he will appoint negotiating committees on behalf of the government, for both state and public servants and employees.

“We want to react and increase the salary base in both state and public services, following the situation of economic growth and filling the budget. Considering the autumn package, there is a lot of pressure on the budget, but I believe that in negotiations and dialogue we will find the best solution that would show that we want to increase the base”, Piletić pointed out.

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

Thursday, 1 September 2022

INA Case: How Croatian Government Directly Facilitated Theft of Century

September 1, 2022 - Citizens of the Republic of Croatia are not used to a high level of political culture, honesty, and truthfulness. While in the normal world politicians resign even for the smallest offenses or breaches of duty, in Croatia even those who are proven guilty should be forced out of their positions. Political responsibility and self-criticism simply do not exist. As the INA case unfolds, this becomes more and more apparent.

As Index writes, some statements are too much even for Croatia. It is one thing to cover one's ears, remain silent, and not admit responsibility for certain failures, and it is quite another to claim that these failures are proof of the abilities, moral qualities, and work of those who are responsible for them.

Plenković says that he should be congratulated after the theft of the century

This is what Andrej Plenković said at the press conference after the coalition meeting of the ruling parties where the INA case was discussed: "The key message is that the institutions of the Croatian state, rather the government, were the ones who discovered this case of abuse, not the police or the judicial authorities, but the Office for the Prevention of Money Laundering, a department within the Ministry of Finance". He added that the opposition, instead of demanding elections, should - congratulate the government.

But the facts do not support his arrogant statements. Not only did the government not detect the theft of the century, but it also directly facilitated it. This is the real truth, and it is not difficult to prove it, no matter what Plenković arrogantly claims.

Plenković and the HDZ government directly appointed the INA Administration, at which he is now theatrically "furious"

First of all, the Prime Minister, who claims to be furious with the INA Board, should be reminded that he appointed the people who make up the Croatian quota. According to the agreement, Croatia has the right to three members of the INA Management Board, and they are appointed by the government.

In 2020, Plenković, i.e., the government, appointed Croatian members of the Management Board, with whom the same Plenković is now theatrically "furious". On March 31 of that year, a meeting of the Supervisory Board of INA was held, where new members of the company's Management Board were appointed at the proposal of the government, led by Andrej Plenković: Barbara Dorić, Darko Markotić, and Niko Dalić.

They were the replacement of the previous members, who were also appointed by the HDZ government in 2011, and the prime minister and leader of the HDZ at that time was Jadranka Kosor.

If the Administration appointed by Plenković had done its job, there would have been no theft

If the Board had done its job the case wouldn’t exist, and the Board was appointed by Plenković himself. Admittedly, he only replaced the former HDZ members with a new set, except for one man. That is Niko Dalić, who has been on the INA Management Board for more than a decade. Jadranka Kosor appointed him there in 2011.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell,  remember who managed Agrokor during its collapse and who the ringleader was of the Borg group. For her "services", she was awarded the position of president of the Podravka Management Board in February of this year, which was personally advocated by Plenković. She was even at his place for a kind of job interview, which the media and economists interpreted as the prime minister's direct recruitment in a state-owned company.

Niko Dalić from the INA Management Board is, of course, the husband of Martina Dalić, the Minister of Finance in Plenković's government, who was appointed head of Podravka by Plenković and who led, to put it mildly, the dubious "restructuring" of Agrokor. He is much less exposed in the media, but that is why he survived a whole decade on the INA Management Board.

He was the only one who survived Plenković's change of Croatian members. A trustworthy man, one would say. The current government did not only appoint the Management Board of INA, but also appointed HDZ member Damir Mikuljan as president of the Supervisory Board at the end of last year, and Davor Filipović, a man who had previously been spectacularly defeated in the elections for mayor of Zagreb, as a member.

>> Nacional: Plenković personally chose Dalić and her husband, they have a salary of HRK 200,000

HDZ minister was informed that Ina was losing money. He did nothing and could have prevented the theft

In an interview for N1, Damir Vanđelić, the former head of the Supervisory Board of INA, who was replaced by Damir Mikuljan in December 2021, said that he had informed the authorities, including the then HDZ Minister of Economy Tomislav Ćorić, that INA was losing money.

By the way, Damir Mikuljan, who replaced Damir Vanđelić, is the head of something called the Honorable Court of the HDZ. He will probably decide on the party line of the alleged organiser of the theft of the century, Damir Škugor. The arrested Škugor was also the man of honor for HDZ general secretary Krunoslav Katičić.

That Škugor is active in HDZ was revealed through photos of him hugging Plenković himself and the President of the Croatian Parliament, Goran Jandroković, although the government spokesman claimed before the photos were published that the Prime Minister did not know him.

"Last year in May, we reacted to the Supervisory Board and asked for a session because eight people in high positions in INA were dismissed," said Vanđelić. "I put the topic on for the Supervisory Board at that time, that is May 2021, I asked in English what the plan was when eight people were dismissed. I didn't know about Škugor at the time, but something was happening. Eight good people were dismissed then, they were paid severance pay to leave. That's why I asked what the plan was. We did not receive satisfactory answers."

"The answer was that they were improving the organisation," he added. "I didn't get any answer. I got some calls, mocking us from Supervisory Board because we are problematising the topics of staffing and gas business," he said. "Ćorić told me to politicise and do some other business".

HDZ's Čorić responded: "Vanđelic is very creative in presenting alternative facts". After that statement, evidence was published, an e-mail in which Vanđelić stated that he noticed the "leakage of funds from INA" and informed Ćorić about the problem. Vanđelić sent the mail to his colleagues in the Supervisory Board two weeks earlier and then forwarded it to Ćorić, in which he compared the operations of INA and MOL.

>> Published email in which Vanđelić warned Ćorić that Ina was losing a lot of money

Soon after that, he was removed from the head of the Supervisory Board and was replaced by the previously mentioned Damir Mikuljan, head of the Honorable Court of HDZ.

It is not difficult to notice that just last year, while the theft of the century was taking place, HDZ's staffing in INA was going on. It is arrogant and insulting to the intelligence of the citizens that Plenković claims that the government exposed the theft. By all accounts, the government directly set up Škugor and all the others who made a billion kuna disappear right in front of their noses.

>> Tomislav Ćorić could have prevented the theft of the century. Vuković: This is astonishing

Rakar: The theft was discovered by the banks. It is impossible to declare this a discovery of the government

HDZ's responsibility does not end with staffing at INA. The government is, of course, only a branch of HDZ, and HDZ recruits all over the country.

"I don't see how it is possible to declare the fact that the banks discovered a suspicious payment to the account of a natural person (in no less than a nine-digit amount in kuna) a victory or a great discovery when that same money was created by manipulation and de facto theft from an extremely organised company traded on the stock exchange in which the Republic of Croatia possesses almost 50 percent of the ownership, the president and several members of the Supervisory Board and several members of the company's Management Board. In addition, the entire operation took place through another company, which is owned by a utility company owned by the county, and CroPlin (which is 100% owned by the same INA)", Marko Rakar from the Association of Authorized Fraud Investigators told Index.

"This is proof that the mechanisms of management, control, and supervision in a whole series of companies, but also the state and counties, have completely failed", he concluded.

One of the channels through which money was extracted from INA is The Gas Company of Eastern Slavonia, headed by Marija Ratkić, also a member of HDZ. She defended herself before USKOK that she was only carrying out the orders of her party colleague Damir Škugor.

The Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia is owned by the Vukovar-Srijem County, whose prefect is Damir Dekanić. You guessed it, he is also an HDZ member. He has been a member since 1990 and since 2020 the vice president of the party in Vukovar-Srijem County. You don't need to guess a lot to conclude which party is recruiting in Plinara of Eastern Slavonia.

>> Gas plant revenues from the theft of the century jumped sharply last year. No one found this strange

Fina praised the company through which the theft from INA happened. And Fina, of course, is managed by HDZ

The ones who reported the suspicious events that led to the exposure of the theft of the century in Croatia are - private banks. And in addition to the internal controls of INA and Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia at least two state institutions, Fina and the Tax Administration, also failed.

The first one had all the information related to the company OMS-Upravljanje d.o.o., through which money was primarily extracted from INA. "The small and micro-entrepreneurs with the highest profit for the period in 2021 were: CENTRICE ZAGREB d.o.o., HT HOLDING d.o.o. and SUPERNOVA BUZIN d.o.o. (small) and CENTAR BUNDEK d.o.o. in bankruptcy, BELVEDERE d.d. in bankruptcy and OMS-UPRALJANJE d.o.o. (micro)", announced Fina in a press release just two months ago.

According to information from Fina, OMS-Upravljanje is in third place among the micro-entrepreneurs with the highest profit. Their profit was HRK 117 million 277 thousand. In 2021, OMS-Upravljanje had a higher profit than all those who were on the list of the top 5 small entrepreneurs.

The fact that a micro-company with one employee founded in 2019 had a higher profit than most medium-sized entrepreneurs, which have from 50 to 250 employees, should have immediately set off an alarm in Fina. But nobody reacted, and by chance or not, the head of Fina is another HDZ member, Dražen Čović.

>> The key company from the INA theft was on Fina's top list. Nobody even blinked

Plenković insults the intelligence of citizens

Nothing was suspicious, and no one knew anything. And many not only could but had to know. They get paid to do it. Internal control and management of INA, external auditors of INA, internal control and external auditors of Gas Plant Eastern Slavonia, FINA, Tax Administration, and many others.

The impression is that many people knew, or at least more than have been arrested (so far). HDZ appears in one way or another connected with the name of everyone involved with this theft of the century, whether it was a person directly involved or someone who should have reacted to obvious signs that something strange was going on.

If Plenković had just said today that HDZ and the government have nothing to do with what is happening around INA, it would be a blatant lie. Claiming that the HDZ government is responsible for uncovering the looting is a step beyond lying, making fools of the citizens of the Republic of Croatia.

The arrogance of that statement alone is enough for resignation, and as it has been proven that HDZ and Plenković directly staffed INA while the theft of the century was taking place, the resignation should be insisted on because of the direct responsibility for the disappearance of billions of kuna.

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

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

What Does Proposed New Law on Maritime Property Bring?

August the 23rd, 2022 - What exactly does the new proposal for the Law on Maritime Property bring with it? There are some concerning items to be aware of, and Otoci.eu/Islands.eu has a message for the powers that be.

As Andrea Beader/Otoci.eu writes, does the new proposal of the Law on Maritime Property and Sea Ports bring us any restrictions or the fencing off of sea beaches to the public?

Reviewing the new proposal of the Law on Maritime Property and Sea Ports, we were taken aback by the proposed items that explicitly enable the limitation of the general use of maritime property, its fencing off and even the potential charging for access to sea beaches along the coast of the mainland and on the islands, which would prevent all citizens of the Republic of Croatia, as well as the rest of the public, from enjoying unhindered public use of maritime property and sea beaches.

We consider parts of the proposed law inadmissible and completely contradictory to everything we have advocated for and communicated all these years, emphasising the importance of protecting Croatia's greatest social, touristic and economic potential - its maritime assets, which historically and culturally represents an extremely important resource for everyone.

Maritime resource management with an emphasis placed on sea beaches

Five years ago, together with numerous stakeholders in the working group for the drafting of the proposal of the Law on Maritime Property, we worked out the best models for the use of maritime property with a special emphasis placed on beaches, with shared knowledge and experience.

We all had the goal of protecting Croatia's maritime assets from devastation, the restriction of access and privatisation, and maintaining the concept of public good in order to enable all residents and visitors to swim and relax on the Croatian coast and on the islands. With the departure of Maja Markovcic Kostelac to another job, unfortunately the whole process was suddenly interrupted and the then proposal of the Law ended up stuffed down into a drawer after many hours of work.

Recently, this topic and the decision on the adoption of the new Law on Maritime Property and Sea Ports has been brought up to date again. A new working group was formed, to which we weren't invited as representatives of both citizens and civil society organisations, despite our continuous work and advocacy for the preservation of maritime property and its public use, especially regarding sea beaches. A few months ago, we were contacted by phone and our opinion was sought.

However, since we weren't presented with a new proposal for the Law on Maritime Property, we could only give our comments by generally repeating our well-known position - sea beaches in Croatia must remain for public use, and we will not support any restrictions on their use.

Of course, we understand the need for the economic use of maritime property, the improvement of the coastline and raising the quality of services offered on beaches, in ports and at sea. However, we believe that a way must be found so that the maritime asset remains a public asset and that everyone is satisfied with the management method.

As an example of good practice, we sent Mr. Bilaver the Rulebook on the Economic Use of Maritime Property, which we drafted back in 2017 with Split-Dalmatia County and which could serve as an example for everyone to find a way to reconcile private and public interest when concessioning sea beaches.

A dispute of Article 11 of the proposal for the Law on Maritime Property and Sea Ports

Finally, at the end of July of this year, we received the proposal of the new law from the state secretary, Mr. Bilaver, and a request to send our comments, which we did within a few days.

We consider the most controversial part of the proposal of the Law on Maritime Property and Sea Ports to be Article 11, which we'll transcribe in its entirety:

(1) On part of the maritime property, in accordance with this Law, the general use of the maritime property can be limited, and exceptionally excluded for a certain period of time on the basis of a concession, approval for special use, granting the right to the temporary use of the maritime property, and granting the management of a port.port administration which is open to public traffic.

(2) A restriction on the general use of maritime property is considered to be fencing off or otherwise preventing access to a part of the maritime property with or without charging [a free] for the use of the maritime property, when such a restriction is permitted by a valid concession agreement, a contract on special use or an agreement on the temporary use of the maritime property and by granting a port open for public transport to be placed under the management of the port authority.

(3) The exclusion of maritime property from general use is considered to be the use of a maritime asset in a way that completely or partially excludes the general use of a part of the maritime property, when such exclusion is permitted by a valid concession agreement, a special use agreement or an agreement on the temporary use of the maritime property.

(4) The degree of restriction and exclusion of maritime property from general use and the purpose achieved thereby is determined by the decision on awarding concessions, the decision on granting approval for special use and the decision on granting maritime property for temporary use.

Dear Prime Minister, Minister, Secretary of State and all other members of the working group who are responsible for the preparation of the proposal for this Law, we ask you - do you really intend to limit the use of maritime property, i.e. sea beaches for the public, with this proposal of the Law, and/or enable the installation of fences and the charging for entry to the beaches?

Are you aware of the negative practices of neighbouring countries, such as Italy, where the beaches are mostly under the concessions of catering/hospitality and hotel facilities, and the numerous sunbeds, umbrellas and other facilities don't allow unhindered access to the sea, even though, according to the law, the public use of maritime property in Italy cannot actually be restricted?

This is an Invitation to the responsible representatives of the institutions of the Republic of Croatia;
Prime Minister, Mr. Plenkovic
Honourable Minister of Maritime Affairs, Mr. Butkovic
State Secretary, Mr. Bilaver

We invite you to review and consider the comments and suggestions that we have sent on the draft law, and be sure to foresee the possibility that the beaches and the sea can be accessed unhindered, regardless of whether they are public or not.

We believe that additional facilities such as sunbeds, umbrellas and other props should incur charges when on the beaches, but they must not endanger and/or prevent unhindered public access to the sea and part of the sea coast. As an example of Split-Dalmatia County's rules for concessioned beaches, it is defined that it is necessary to leave 30% of the surface for public use and provide pedestrian corridors through which everyone who wants to can enter the sea unhindered.

Practice has shown that both private and public interests are satisfied in this way, and that companies and citizens, in places where the laws are respected, can live a quality co-existence. Any restriction of access to the sea and maritime property is a threat to human rights and will certainly cause a series of citizen complaints, public resistance and protests, which will damage community relations and investment potential on the coast and islands in the long term.

For more, make sure to check out our politics section.

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