Wednesday, 26 January 2022

MPs Support Bill on Coastal Maritime Transport

ZAGREB, 26 Jan 2022 - MPs, both of the ruling majority and of the opposition, on Wednesday supported the final bill on regular and occasional coastal maritime transport, underscoring the importance of transport links between islands and the mainland for improving living conditions and economic development.

Presenting the draft bill in the parliament, the State Secretary at the Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, Josip Bilaver, said that the aim of the law was to permanently connect islands with the mainland, and inhabited islands with one another, as well as to increase the existing and introduce new routes for better mobility, faster transport, balanced development of counties and better living conditions on islands.

He said that the new law, among other things, regulated the issue of privilege and free transport and provided free transport for firefighters and their vehicles, including professional firefighters and members of volunteer fire departments.

"I believe that the law will contribute to more frequent lines and a better service, especially for islanders," Bilaver said.

Marijana Puljak announced that she would support the bill on behalf of the parliamentary group of the Centre and GLAS parties, saying that transport was of vital importance for the inhabitants for economic development, improving living conditions and work on islands.

Marina Opačak Bilić (Social Democrats Group) agreed with that, stressing that without good connectivity, which had to exist throughout the year, island populations would decline. She also asked whether the inhabitants of Pelješac would lose their existing boat lines due to the construction of the bridge.

Urša Raukar Gamulin (Green-Left Bloc) thinks the law may be even more important to island inhabitants than the Islands Act because, she said, it is crucial to prevent people from leaving and facilitating island life.

Noting that the law was another step forward in better island transport connectivity, Branko Bačić (HDZ) said that there were 51 state lines (ferry, boat and fast boat lines) and that maritime transport involved about 14 million passengers and 3.5 million vehicles.

He also said that the state allocated about HRK 315 million per year for maritime transport from the budget.

Recalling that the national passenger shipping company Jadrolinija this year celebrated its 70th anniversary, Bačić said that it had taken a big step forward over the past 15 years in the procurement of better and faster ships and fleet rejuvenation. Also, in addition to Jadrolinija, private shipowners have turned to fast boat transport and the purchase of catamarans, which has led to even better island connectivity, he said.

Bačić said that although it was getting a bridge, Pelješac should stay an island because if Pag, Krk, Murter and Čiovo were islands, he saw no reason why Pelješac wouldn't be one.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Parliament Speaker's Office Receives 1,000 Complaints in Past 4 Years

ZAGREB, 26 Jan 2022 - The office of the Parliament Speaker has received more than a thousand letters or petitions from citizens and office staff read each one individually and depending on their content, act accordingly.

"Admittedly, some letters do not require any action because they might just be a comment but we react by reading each one," the Parliament Speaker's office told Hina on Wednesday.

The statistics, however, indicate that in 2018 there were 403 petitions, in 2019 there were 293, in 2020 there were 247, and last year 176.

We assume the number decreased due to the coronavirus pandemic, the office said.

Citizens complain about various matters, mostly about the conduct of state and local government, health, welfare, judiciary, and many are not informed of the competencies of certain state institutions so they write to the Sabor.

In any case, the correspondence is forwarded to the competent bodies and we ask that they reply to the sender.

The office added that they also have some people who write regularly and not only to the Sabor but other institutions too.

Parliament  Speaker Gordan Jandroković confirmed on Tuesday that the Sabor receives petitions from citizens and added that he had investigated claims about an acquaintance of his concerning the state property rented to that acquaintance. Jandrokoivć added that he did not overstep his duties because he personally reacted to a complaint by a citizen which is something his office receives every day.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Opposition Strongly Criticises Social Welfare Reform Bills

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - The parliamentary opposition on Thursday strongly criticized a reformed set of social welfare bills, saying that the opinions of professionals have not been taken into account, that the system is being unnecessarily centralized, and that there might be long-term negative consequences.

Despite some improvements, the reform is going in the wrong direction and might have far-reaching negative consequences, and it is also contrary to everything professionals have said, Davorko Vidović of the Social Democrats' parliamentary club said in a debate on seven social welfare reform bills.

Anka Mrak Taritaš of GLAS said the aim of the bills should be making life easier for beneficiaries but that these bills were about form, not content.

Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc said two World Bank loans were taken out since 2003 for decentralizing services and reforming the social welfare system and that tens of millions of euros were absorbed from the EU for the same purpose.

What have been the effects of that and why is the course being drastically changed, she asked.

The ruling majority commended the reform, saying that it will result in a more efficient and more transparent system in the service of its beneficiaries.

The centralization refers only to administrative and legal affairs, Nada Murganić of the HDZ said, adding that the reform is timely as it envisages raising almost all allowances.

The guaranteed minimum allowance and the disability allowance are being raised while means' tests and other tests for persons with disabilities are being rescinded, said her colleague Vesna Bedaković.

Presenting the bills, Social Welfare Minister Josip Aladrović said the goal was to enhance the system's organization and coordination, strengthen social welfare centers, increase the availability of services, standardize action, and increase allowances.

"This set of bills is just the first step in improving the system in the long term," he added.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Opposition Criticises Report on European Council Meetings in 2021

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - Opposition MPs on Wednesday criticized a report on European Council meetings in 2021, warning about population problems, the poor status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, higher energy prices, and inflation, while the majority said Croatia's interests were defended well at those meetings.

The report was presented by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

Nino Raspudić (Bridge) said the Council of the EU rejected Croatia's amendments on legitimate political representation and the equality of three constituent peoples in BiH through an electoral reform ahead of a vote due in October.

He said that instead of Croatia blocking those conclusions in line with its national interest, the Plenković cabinet "coldly betrayed Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Croatian interest overall."

Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said the Council of the EU conclusions were the incumbent government's biggest success. "If anyone has done something for Croats in BiH, then it's Plenković and all of us who were there with him."

Social Democratic Party president Peđa Grbin said that last year the European Council called on the member states and the Commission to help the most vulnerable citizens and companies, to design medium and long-term measures to cut energy prices, and to cut taxes.

"Croatia has done none of that. The only measure was that freezing of fuel prices," he said, adding that Croatia could do a lot to help citizens and businesses.

Grbin said that at the European Council Croatia joined France and some other member states in pushing for nuclear energy, asking why Croatia was not joining countries that pushed for alternative sources. In the long term, he said, Croatia must deal with energy sources and achieving the biggest autonomy possible on that front.

Grbin said the SDP was for Croatia's entering Schengen and for using money from the EU Solidarity Fund for post-earthquake reconstruction.

He called on the government to give an estimate, based on the current inflation, of what awaits Croatia with the introduction of the euro and of how to alleviate the inflation blow to citizens.

Bojan Glavašević (Green-Left Bloc) said Croatia received a lot of money from the EU because it was undeveloped and poor, not because of the prime minister's efforts.

He said the results of Croatia's efforts regarding EU enlargement were such that North Macedonia continued to have a shameful blockade of its accession negotiations, Serbia was adopting laws that were the opposite of the EU acquis and values, and Montenegro was going backward.

The EU has no understanding for BiH and the Croats there nor a big interest in the Croatian government's positions in that regard, Glavašević added.

Marko Pavić of the ruling HDZ said that while Bridge wanted to isolate Croatia in the EU and the Sovereignists were against the euro, even though a majority of citizens were for, the HDZ was pushing for modern sovereignism and not isolating Croatia in the European Council.

He said the government and Plenković knew how to defend Croatia's interests, as evidenced in their ensuring €25 billion from European funds for the country's development over the next ten years.

Croatia came out of the recent crisis in just 18 months, and not in ten years as it took after the 2008 crisis, Pavić said, adding that despite the recent crisis, Croatia's credit rating was upgraded and it had a successful tourist season.

He wondered why Grbin was afraid of nuclear energy and why Croatia, as a co-owner of the Krško nuclear plant, should not be part of the initiative to have nuclear energy recognized as green energy.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Parliament Speaker Against Accusations of Referendum Signature Theft

ZAGREB, 20 Dec 2021 - Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Monday commented on claims about stolen referendums, saying that it is not good to create an atmosphere in which someone is accused of theft in advance.

"I wouldn't like the creation of an atmosphere in an attempt to impose the picture that someone has stolen signatures," he said on Croatian Radio.

"The organizers should show how many signatures they collected. It's important that this time the public is included in the process as well as possible in order to eliminate any doubts as to whether there are enough signatures or not," he said about the opposition Bridge party's collection of signatures for a referendum against COVID certificates.

Jandroković said that if Bridge had collected enough signatures as it claimed, he expected them to ask him to receive them so that they could hand him the request to call the referendum as well as the signatures.

Jandroković said he would send the request to the parliamentary committee on the constitution, which would debate it and then ask the government to check if enough signatures had been collected and then notify parliament.

If there are enough signatures, the committee adopts a conclusion either to call the referendum or to ask the Constitutional Court to say if the referendum question is in line with the constitution.

Jandroković said the important thing now was for Bridge to say how many signatures they have. "Creating an atmosphere in which they wish to say in advance, 'Yes, we have enough signatures but someone will steal them,' is not good. I'd call on everyone to be reasonable and for everything to be done as envisaged by the constitution and the law in a tolerant atmosphere."

Asked if parliament could meet Bridge's demand to include pandemics in Article 17 of the constitution, he said that it could but that it was too early to talk about it.

Asked to comment on President Zoran Milanović's claim that the authorities would probably try to rob Bridge of some signatures, Jandroković said it did not deserve a serious comment and that there was no evidence to back such a claim.

He would not comment on the president's statements about Bosnia and Herzegovina but did say that it was everyone's task to help the Croats in BiH.

Jandroković also said he expected the Constitutional Court to approve the COVID certificate mandate in healthcare and social welfare.

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

Monday, 20 December 2021

Grmoja: Bridge Has Collected Enough Signatures for its Anti-COVID Referendum Petition

ZAGREB, 20 Dec 2021 - Nikola Grmoja of the Bridge party said on Sunday they had collected a sufficient number of signatures for their referendum petitions for the transfer of the powers of the national COVID-19 crisis management team to the parliament and the abolishment of COVID certificates.

This opposition party started collecting signatures on 4  December at over 1,200 venues across Croatia, and the two-week deadline for the initiative expired at midnight on 18 December.

For a referendum campaign to be successful, its organizers must collect the signatures of 10% of the electorate or 368,446 signatures.

Grmoja, however, stopped short of specifying the number of collected signatures, and in his statement to Hina on Sunday evening, he said that they were still gathering data and information from the ground and from local teams that had collected signatures in the last 14 days.

The results of the referendum campaign of this Opposition party are expected to be known on Wednesday.

On Saturday, the last day of the campaign, Grmoja said that data on the turnout from all signature-collecting points should be known by Wednesday, claiming that in the last two days of the campaign, on Friday and Saturday, the turnout was excellent.

Last Wednesday, he told a news conference that they had collected around 300,000 signatures, and in a bid to encourage as many people as possible to sign the petition, senior Bridge members joined the party activists on the ground collecting signatures.

In the event that the referendum petition had been supported by the required number of signatures, the questions proposed for the referendum could be also tested by the Constitutional Court.

President Milanović on the referendum

On 6 December, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said that he wouldn't sign the Bridge party's referendum petition for the abolition of COVID certificates because he thought he "isn't here to root for anyone", and he told the government and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party that they had brought this on themselves.

"I have said I will not sign it, but what I'm saying carries at least as much weight as some signature. I believe the government and the HDZ are responsible for signatures being collected now for amending the Constitution so that what is clear to everyone, except to the HDZ and Plenković, could become clear to them as well," said Milanović.

Commenting on the referendum on that occasion, Milanović said it consisted of two parts, the first of which was a matter of constitutionality with regard to Article 17, or cases when it is decided on a temporary suspension of fundamental human rights and freedoms. According to him, the first part of the referendum will depend on whether enough signatures are collected, and if there are enough of them, then the referendum will likely succeed because those in favor of the crisis management team running Croatia, and they're about 25% of them, he says, will simply not cast their vote or their number will be insufficient.

"I think the second part of the referendum, which deals with legislative changes, is not very well though-out and... the Constitutional Court may not allow those referendum questions," he said then.

Four opposition groups say they never supported Bridge's referendum initiative

Last Thursday, MPs from the Green-Left Bloc, Centre/GLAS, Peasant Party /Workers' Front, and Istrian Democratic Party groups strongly denied the statement by the Bridge's Vice President Grmoja that he had received guarantees from all opposition parties that they would support Bridge's referendum petition.

"That statement is a complete lie," says a joint statement signed by the leaders of the four opposition groups, stressing that these parties "neither participated in the meeting on the referendum initiative nor pledged their support in any way."

"It is unclear why MP Grmoja told such lies. ... Some members of our groups have warned Bridge MPs several times that the referendum initiative will further divide citizens, mobilize anti-vax sentiment, help spread fake news and conspiracy theories, and potentially contribute to the escalation of violence among citizens," the joint statement said.

The statement was released the day after in the national parliament Bridge deputies entered into a conflict with Opposition lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and other center-left groups on the topic of vaccination against coronavirus.

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

For more on COVID-19, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 13 December 2021

3 Important Decisions Must be Made by Croatian Parliament This Week

December the 13th, 2021 - The Croatian parliament has three significant decisions to make before they break up for a month this week, with the conclusion of their autumn sessions set to take place on Wednesday.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, the Croatian Parliament, which will conclude its regular autumn session on Wednesday this week, will discuss the final text of a law on preventing conflicts of interest today, which the opposition finds a number of objections to which should be rejected by the parliamentary majority and the government.

''With this law, we're making the procedure for determining conflicts of interest more quickly, more transparently, and to make the law more transparent,'' emphasised Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

The opposition insists that the new law will "euthanise", and reduce the work of the Commission for Deciding on Conflicts of Interest to the level of an ordinary bureaucratic body.

''This isn't true, we 'e expanding and strengthening the competencies of the Commission, it remains an important and independent anti-corruption body with extended powers to new taxpayers, with new mechanisms,'' said State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Josip Salapic.

"This is one of our conditions and plans for the NPOO, and with this law we'll be able to meet one of the important criteria according to the European Commission," he said.

The new law, he says, will significantly expand the circle of taxpayers, with a thousand new ones added, more than 7,000 taxpayers will be required to submit a report on their assets, with property cards needing to be submitted once a year. Data on assets will have to be submitted by the presidents of the management boards of companies owned by the state and local self-government units, directors of healthcare institutions, HRT, HAKOM, the Fund for the Reconstruction of the City of Zagreb, etc.

The law extends the "cooling-off period" from 12 to 18 months after the term of office, during which officials will not be able to be appointed to management positions in companies with which they have been in business or supervised. Proceedings before the Commission should then be faster, and instead of three steps being involved, there will only be two, the initiating of proceedings and then decisions on the existence or non-existence of any conflicts of interest.

If the Croatian Parliaments votes in favour, this will toughen the fines, so instead of the previous 2,000 kuna, the Commission will be able to impose a minimum fine of 4,000 kuna, while the maximum penalty remains 40,000 kuna.

"We're increasing the limit of sanctions for violating the provisions of the law by one hundred percent, they can charge not only what one salary is worth, but also other property, ie income," said the Prime Minister, who also referred to the opposition's criticism of the current Article 5 of the law.

"The issue is the current Article 5 of the law, ie the principles of operation, regardless of the number of articles which are changing, the principles remain, no one deletes them, no one touches them," he stressed and said that the Commission will be able to apply them judgments of the High Administrative Court, in accordance with this law.

''With the proposed law, we've fulfilled all the preconditions from the Rule of Law Report published by the European Commission, and we'll also have fulfilled the recommendations of GRECO,'' the Prime Minister pointed out.

On Monday, Croatian Parliament will also discuss the Final Bill on the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), which will abolish membership fees for more than 95 percent of enterprises, and transform the Chamber into an efficient service aimed at business owners.

The membership fee model is divided into three groups by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, and the first will be exempt from paying membership fees. This group will include members who do not exceed two of the three criteria - their total active income does not exceed 7.5 million kuna, total annual income 15 million kuna, and the number of employees doesn't exceed 50.

This week, Croatian Parliament should also appoint three members of the HRT Supervisory Board, because the mandates of the president of the Supervisory Board, Mladen Cutura, deputy Maja Martinovic and member Morana Palikovic Gruden expire on December the 15th this year.

The Media Committee has determined the list of 11 candidates who do meet the conditions from the competition, namely Zoran Barac, Pasko Bilic, Zdravko Kedzo, Marijo Kraljevic, Silvija Luks-Kalogjera, Luka Madjeric, Antun Paveskovic, Maja Pleskalt, Marko Primorac, Damir Rudes and Alan -Stjepko Soric.

After voting on all the discussed points on Wednesday, Croatian Parliament will go on a one-month break, they sat almost continuously this autumn, the only exception being the week in which the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Vukovar and Skabrnja was marked.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Parl. Speaker: Pandemic's Darkness Affects a Part of Political Scene

ZAGREB, 12 Dec 2021 - Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Sunday participated in a ceremony of the delivery of Bethlehem Light of Peace to the Cathedral of Zagreb, and on that occasion said that the times were not easy and that the pandemic's darkness affected the society, including a part of the political scene.

Let this Light enlighten many souls, Jandroković said.

The Bethlehem Light of Peace is a symbol of Christmas and in the Bible, it symbolizes the coming of Jesus, whose birth promised peace to all people of goodwill.

In his address to the press, the Sabor Speaker called for vaccination and for compliance with all anti-epidemic rules and for responsible and rational behavior.

"One should take care of the lives and health of other people."

Asked by the press whether the Constitutional Court will be asked to test the constitutionality of the questions of the Bridge party's ongoing referendum initiative against COVID certificates before the necessary signatures were collected or after that, Jandroković said: "We live in a democracy, everybody can do everything that is allowed by law. However, I appeal to common sense, conscience, and to the awareness that not every topic promoted in that way could be beneficial to people. Quite contrary."

We have many people who have got sick and many who have died of the disease, and it should not have happened. Inoculation, adhering to epidemiological measures and prudence are the way to reduce coronavirus numbers, he said, underscoring that it is crucial to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Asked by the press about the indictment against former minister Lovro Kuščević and reports on a preliminary investigation against former minister Tomislav Tolušić over alleged white-collar crimes, the parliament speaker said that it was inappropriate for politicians to comment on prosecutions, although it seemed that there was a widespread belief that politicians must take stand on each topic.

In a democracy there is the separation of powers, everybody is responsible for their job and prosecutorial authorities are expected to explain to the public things unclear from their remit, said Jandroković, adding that keeping making comments on investigations can amount to pressure on the judiciary.

 For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Lawmakers Engaged in Heated Debate Over COVID Certificates

ZAGREB, 10 Dec 2021 - Members of the Croatian parliament on Thursday started a heated debate on a bill on the protection of the population against infectious diseases which envisages fines up to HRK 50,000 for responsible persons not complying with the COVID-19 certificate mandate in bodies governed by public law.

COVID certificates are unconstitutional and unlawful and they are not an effective measure and it has been proved that only testing can protect the population, said Miro Bulj of the Opposition Bridge party.

He said that the amendments to the law would usher in "unconstitutional lockdown and abuse with COVID certificates."

Josip Borić of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) responded that the Bridge party in fact, "is the only one that wishes to lock down citizens within Croatia if COVID certificates were to be abolished."

"You cannot travel to any other country without a COVID certificate," Borić explained.

Branko Bačić (HDZ) underscored that questioning COVID certificates resembles something that would be debated in the Middle Ages rather than the 21st century.

He supported the introduction of certificates with the argument that of 570,000 tests, which have been conducted since the COVID certificate mandate for the public sector, 8,515 were positive.

Had those 8,515 persons entered the system, that would have led to the infection of about 50,000 people and about 100 would have died, claimed Bačić and recalled that all democratic countries have introduced the certificates.

Opposition MPs pointed out a series of illogical, inconsistent, and vague measures adopted in the attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

People are tested prior to entering Slovenia and when they get to the border with Austria they get a positive result which makes the certificate redundant, Dario Zurovec of the Fokus party said and underscored that any restriction of movements is contrary to the Constitution and EU legal acquis.

Hrvoje Zekanović of the Croatian Sovereignists (HS) explained that one can enter a building housing a post office without a certificate but have to produce it when they arrive at the counter. If you can enter a shop without a certificate then that should be valid for a post office too. He wondered who would cover the cost of losses post offices might suffer due to the mandatory certificates.

Decisions should be brought by a two-thirds majority

The opposition called for decisions to be adopted with a two-thirds majority in the Sabor.

Andreja Marić of the Social Democratic Party (SDP)  called for complying with the advice and recommendations made by experts and doctors and for vaccination, however, she wondered whether COVID certificates perhaps are a restriction on human rights and freedom because some institutions do not require certificates yet others do.

Anka Mrak Taritaš of the GLAS party said that the discussion should be focused on the life and death of citizens rather than on COVID certificates.

During the 1991-1995 Homeland War, an estimated 15,000 citizens were killed, and the COVID-19 pandemic has taken 11,500 lives in Croatia so far, she underscored.

Let those under the influence drive too!

Katarina Peović of the Workers' Front (RF) said that Croatia has the most liberal anti-epidemic measures in Europe and responded in an ironic manner to those who argue that vaccinated people can also spread the virus, that she would appeal to let people under the influence to drive, "because those who aren't under the influence can also cause accidents."

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Sabor Endorses Year-Long Extension of Deadline for Citizenship Application

ZAGREB, 8 Dec, 2021 - The Croatian parliament on Wednesday confirmed a year-long extension of the deadline for the submission of applications for Croatian citizenship under the current law since the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for everyone to apply.

Under the current law, the deadline to apply for Croatian citizenship expires on 1 January 2022, but since the pandemic has made it difficult for many to apply, the law has been amended to extend the deadline.

Under the current law, adopted in 2019, the awarding of Croatian citizenship based on nationality can also refer to persons older than 21 born abroad, on the condition that at the time of their birth at least one of their parents was a Croatian national.

The same applies to persons born between 8 January 1977 and 8 October 1991 whose parents had Croatian citizenship at the time of their birth but who have different citizenship entered in their citizenship data.

In 2020 a total of 1,923 applications for Croatian citizenship were submitted, and in the first 11 months of 2021 another 2,980 were submitted, mostly in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The parliament today also adopted, by a majority vote, a law on renewable energy sources and high-efficiency cogeneration to promote the use of renewable energy sources.

Under the law, Croatia will promote the use of renewables in the heating and air conditioning sector by trying to raise the share of renewable energy by 1.1 percentage points as the annual average calculated for the period until 2025.

The law sets a national goal of making renewable energy account for at least 36.6% of energy consumption in 2030.

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