Friday, 28 May 2021

PM Says Croatia's Army Has Developed into Efficient and Modern Armed Forces

ZAGREB, 28 May 2021 - At the beginning of his cabinet's meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković sent a congratulatory message to the armed forces and the ground army on the occasion of Army Day and the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Croatian army.

"In the last three decades, the Croatian army with its origins among the people, gained huge experience during the Homeland War which it won, and it has developed into an efficient and modern armed force prepared to deal with all the tasks assigned to it," Plenković said.

After the the 1991-1995 war, the army underwent a successful process of the peacetime transformation, and only 11 years after the peaceful reintegration of its  Danube egion, Croatia became a member of NATO, the strongest military alliance in the history, the premier underscored.

Croatia's soldiers are highly-esteemed participants in a lot of international missions and operations worldwide, including those run by NATO and those run by the United Nations. All that is conducive to the international security and peace, as preconditions for any development and prosperity, he added.

In the present-day more and more unstable world, Croatia must be able to efficiently safeguard its territory and borders, control its skies and sea and ensure its stability and energy independence, and, if necessary, protect its won freedom, he said.

In this context Plenković noted that his cabinet pursued the course that accomplished the priorities of the defence and security policies.

The government has adopted a new national security strategy and the legislation on homeland security and increased defence outlays and made investments in the miltiary equipment and modernisation, he noted.

At the end of his speech on the modernisation of the army, PM Plenković revealed the decision of his cabinet to purchase 12 used French multipurpose fighter jets Dassault Rafale F3R for €999 million.

For more on politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated section.

Friday, 14 May 2021

President Zoran Milanović Says is Involved in Fighter Jet Selection Via Main Staff Chief

ZAGREB, 14 May, 2021 - President and Armed Forces Supreme Commander Zoran Milanović said on Friday he was involved in the selection of fighter jets via the Main Staff chief, who answers to him, and via the Air Force commander.

"The prime minister was untruthful again. Not a day goes by without that man telling a lie. He says I could have but did not get involved (...) But I did, via the chief of the Main Staff, who answers to me, via the Croatian Air Force commander," Milanović told reporters in Petrinja.

"Do I have to say all the time that the prime minister is a liar? That's lying. Or the man knows nothing about the state nor about the commission whose appointment he signed," he said, adding that on that commission was the Main Staff chief, "who answers first and foremost to me. So, I have all the inside information."

Asked if a decision which fighter jets to purchase would be made by the end of the month, as announced by the defence minister, Milanović said, "I don't believe anything."

That's irresponsible, amateurish, dilettante behaviour, he added.

Asked to comment on Milanović's statement that the government was taking too long to decide on the best multi-purpose fighter jets, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that Milanović had refused to appoint his representative on the competent commission and sought to distance himself from the process. "What does he care then? Why the rush? We will decide at our own convenience."

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

Friday, 14 May 2021

Defence Minister Mario Banožić Expects Decision on Fighter Jets This Month

ZAGREB, 14 May, 2021 - Defence Minister Mario Banožić said on Friday he expected a decision on the best offer of multipurpose fighter jets to be made this month.

We were in a time of earthquakes and the pandemic, and perhaps the communication with the bidding countries did not take place when one wanted, he told the press in Petrinja.

"It all resulted in us having a superior time ahead of us when a decision will be made to the honour and glory of the Croatian army and the Croatian Air Force."

Asked when the decision would be made and what the deadlines were, Banožić said he expected it this month. He also commented on President Zoran Milanović's question as to when the government would finally decide.

He said "the president was invited to participate in the body which created the basis for making a decision" and that he could have "participated in that process."

Banožić said he tried to remain civil in his communication with the president. "First and foremost because I'm the minister of a department which is truly an honour for me, a person who should avoid conflict yet try to keep the situation under control regardless of the circumstances."

He said the military commander-in-chief should have a positive attitude and support the military and the Defence Ministry in making decisions on modernisation and equipment.

I understand what the president's fundamental constitutional duties are. I respect his role as such. I can't accept his attempts to have his way of communicating and political views reflected on the Croatian army, Banožić said.

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

Monday, 23 November 2020

France Expects Croatian Decision on Fighter Jets in 2021

ZAGREB, November 23, 2020 - France is confidently expecting an assessment by a Croatian technical team of its Rafale fighter jets and hopes that in 2021 Croatia will make its final decision on which jets it will buy to replace its Air Force fleet, France's Defence Minister Florence Parly said in Zagreb on Monday.

Parly met with in Government House on Monday.

We are at the Croatian government's disposal for any additional questions and we are confidently waiting for the results and decision by the technical commission. I hope that in 2021 we will know the Croatian government's final decision, Parly told the press after meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Defence Minister Mario Banozic.

She added that it was now up to Croatian authorities to completely independently consider not just the French proposal but all the proposals that arrived from other countries. She recalled that France had offered 12 used Rafale fighter jets that had proved themselves in numerous operations.

Banozic said that the interdepartmental commission would meet after December 12 and make its recommendation taking account of the financial nature of the bid, the technical characteristics, the foreign policy context and the "use by date" of the current MiG-21 jets.

He added that the government could make a final decision early next year.

In addition to the bid by France, Croatia has received bids from Sweden, the United States and Israel.

Parly said that regardless of which bid Croatia opted for, France wanted "to entirely strengthen our strategic partnership," including cooperation within European programmes for industrial development in the field of defence. She added that industry both in Croatia and France would benefit from that.

Parly said that France advocated a stronger European defence and greater strategic autonomy, particularly regarding the numerous challenges facing Europe, like terrorist attacks and the series of crises that have emerged on the threshold of the EU, from Libya to the Balkans and to Nagorno-Karabakh.

More than ever it is essential that Europeans are aware of the common challenge...we know that we can count on Croatia, said Parly.

This is Parly's second visit to Croatia. She visited Croatia in March and met with Prime Minister Plenkovic to discuss the problem of illegal migrants while Plenkovic informed her of his recent visit to the Greek-Turkish border and of the situation there at the time as well as of the efforts by the Croatian police to protect the border.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Mike Pompeo and Croatian Senior Officials to Meet in Dubrovnik for Talks on F-16 and Visas

ZAGREB, Oct 1, 2020 - The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will stop in Dubrovnik on Friday as part of his European tour, and he will be received by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman, and a few more senior officials.

The abolishment of visas for the Croatians traveling to the USA, Croatia's plan to purchase fighter jets, the LNG terminal off Krk, and Croatia's plans to introduce 5G network are likely to be some of the topics between Pompeo, who is the highest U.S. official to visit Croatia since the start of the Donald Trump presidency in 2016, and his hosts in Dubrovnik.

"The leaders will discuss opportunities for closer cooperation between the United States and Croatia in key areas of mutual concern, including defense cooperation, the growing U.S.-Croatia investment relationship, and Croatia’s strong efforts to advance Western Balkan integration," reads the statement on the website of the US State Department.

U.S. Visa Waiver Programme

After three decades of unsuccessful attempts to get the visa requirements for Croatian travelers to the USA abolished, Mike Pompeo is expected to announce in Dubrovnik that Croatia has met the last criterion to be added to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and that is that refusal rate considering the rejected visa applications has fallen below 3%.

Currently, all but four EU member states are within the VWP. Apart from Croatia, those are Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. 

The VWP is a program of the U.S. federal government that allows citizens of specific countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa.

On Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Grlic Radman told the HRT broadcaster that he expected a "positive decision" by the USA in the months ahead about waiving visas for Croatian nationals.

"Various bodies in the US decide on that, with support from the American embassy. I think we can expect a positive decision in the months ahead," the minister said.

U.S. Ambassador to Zagreb, Robert Kohorst, has said recently that he is optimistic about the VWP for Croatia, however, he did not want to specify when the visa requirements could be abolished for the Croatians.

Procurement of 12 multipurpose fighter jets

The Croatian Defence Ministry in early September received bids for the procurement of 12 multipurpose fighter jets from Sweden, the USA, France, and Israel. Sweden has offered new Gripen C/D jets, the USA new F-16 block 70 jets, France used Rafale jets, and Israel used F-16 block 30 aircraft.

US Ambassador Robert Kohorst said on Wednesday that the aircraft offered by his country was an excellent plane and that his country hoped the procurement process would go in his country's favor.

When this topic is discussed, it is often mentioned that over recent years, Washington has donated military equipment, estimated at several hundred million dollars, to Croatia.

Croatia's interdepartmental commission will recommend the best bid by December 12.

Mike Pompeo and Defence Minister Mario Banozic are due to consider this topic.

5G network

During his European tour which started on 27 September, Pompeo first visited Greece and then Italy and the Holy See from where he is due to arrive in Dubrovnik.

International media have reported that while in Rome he delivered "warning to Italy over China's economic influence and 5G."

Pompeo "described Chinese mobile telecoms technology as a threat to Italy’s national security and the privacy of its citizens," Reuters reported.

"The United States also urges the Italian government to consider carefully the risks to its national security and the privacy of its citizens presented by technology companies with ties to the Chinese Community Party," he was quoted as saying.

The USA is seen to be mounting pressure on European countries not to use Huawei technology in the 5G networks.

Croatia plans to develop 5G networks and the first stage is to introduce this technology in a few cities: Osijek, Bjelovar, Karlovac, and Rijeka.

Croatia and China have stepped up their bilateral cooperation over the last few years, and the current biggest infrastructure project in Croatia -- the construction of Peljesac Bridge -- is being implemented by Chinese builders.

Croatia is one of the members of the China+16 platform for the cooperation between Beijing and central and east European countries.

 Therefore, it will be no surprise if  Mike Pompeo delivers similar warnings to Croatia as he did to Italy.

The Andrej Plenkovic government on Wednesday launched procedures to conclude the Convention between Croatia and the USA for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

This convention is likely to be one of the topics of the Dubrovnik talks.

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Monday, 14 September 2020

Aircraft Purchase Commission to Recommend Best Bid by Dec. 12

ZAGREB, Sept 14, 2020  - The interdepartmental aircraft purchase commission will recommend the best bid by December 12, Defense Minister Mario Banozic said on Sunday evening.

"Given that the bids were submitted to the Defence Ministry on September 9 and we have three months, it is easy to calculate that (the deadline) is December 12. In these three months the interdepartmental commission will evaluate all the bids," Banozic said in an interview with the public television service HTV when asked when a decision would be made on which fighter jets Croatia would buy.

"December 12 is the deadline that we have set," the minister said.

He noted that the best bid may not be final, adding that the commission would talk to each bidder. There are various elements that will be decisive, such as the number of flight simulators, the weapons package, pilot training, the payment plan, and cooperation between the states, and the bidders are also expected to reduce the amount of the initial offer, he said.

Banozic said that Croatia should avoid a situation in which other countries would guard its skies. "Croatia should definitely avoid that because it will not be for free. If we leave it to Hungary or Italy, which are mentioned as one of the solutions, we will pay for it, but that money will go to another country."

Milanovic's statement was unfair

Banozic said that it was unfair of President Zoran Milanovic to say that American aircraft should be the first choice because no one from the President's Office is a member of the interdepartmental commission.

"The decision not to be on the commission reduces their responsibility and allows them to speak in public as they now do. And even this, in my opinion, is a form of lobbying and cheering for one of the bids, which in my opinion is unfair," the defense minister said.

"The commission is the place to present one's views. One should be very responsible and not present incorrect solutions to the media. One should not try to curry favor with countries involved in the tender, but should clearly stand behind the offer and support a comprehensive, unanimous solution that will be a credit to the Croatian army and the citizens of Croatia," he added.

Banozic confirmed that there had already been pressure from certain lobbies, saying that a few days before the submission of bids there was news of "a fake offer that will be the best of all," adding that this strategy of misinformation through the media and social networks was well known.

"I think it will intensify as the decision date draws near. But I am sure that if we as members of the commission take a clear and honest approach as we did in putting together the tender, the result will be good for all - for the Croatian army and the citizens of Croatia," the minister said.

Speaking of the impact of the corona crisis on the defense budget, Banozic said that the budget had been cut by HRK 500 million from last year's HRK 5.1 billion to make savings, adding that the number of staff would be reduced by about 20 percent or 200-250 people. He said that the downsizing would be carried out through job reclassification and retirement of staff in consultation with the trade union. 

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Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Banozic: Offers For The Fighter Jets Being Received Today

ZAGREB, Sept 9, 2020 - The Defence Ministry is receiving offers for the fighter jets from 9 am to 11.30 am today, which will be followed by a three-month evaluation period before a final proposal is addressed to the government, Defence Minister Mario Banozic told the press outside the government offices on Wednesday.

Asked whether the public would be informed of the details of the offers, he replied in the negative, adding that the offers would go through a three-month process of evaluation based on which a proposal would be made for the government.

A final decision on the best offer will be ready for the government by the end of the year, Banozic said.

He said that initial offers for the fighter jets had been requested from the United States for new F-16 aircraft and from Sweden for Gripen aircraft. Offers were also requested for used European-made aircraft, including Italy's Eurofighter and France's Rafale, as well as for used F-16s from Norway, Greece, and Israel.

Banozic said it was difficult for him to say how much the aircraft would cost because that depended on the offers. He confirmed that Croatia was buying 12 aircraft.

Asked to comment on the decision by the President's Office not to take part in the work of the interdepartmental commission on the purchase of the aircraft, the minister said: "The president and I have regular briefings, I had one yesterday, we work together. He himself said that this decision rests with the government, but I think that this is important for all of us, for our security, and it must be a single decision."

The President's Office has said that it will not have a representative on the commission, but the president will take part in a political decision on the purchase of military aircraft in accordance with his constitutional powers.

The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) said in a statement that representatives of FMV and the Swedish Embassy in Croatia had submitted an offer this morning, which includes new Gripen C/D aircraft and a package of logistical support and training for Croatian Air Force pilots and technicians.

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