Monday, 28 June 2021

PM: Four Big Projects Will Be Realised, Reforms Continued in Next 3 Years

ZAGREB, 28 June 2021 - Croatia will realise four big projects in the next three years, the Pelješac Bridge, joining Schengen and the eurozone, and buying fighter jets, and will also use them for the necessary reforms, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday.

Croatia's road to independence was difficult, but the years ahead will not be easier if we don't prepare for the world that is coming, he said at a conference on Croatia's key successes, organised by Hanza Media on the occasion of Croatia's 30 years of independence.

Plenković said the government's ambition was to join the eurozone on 1 January 2023 and that the multipurpose fighter jets would arrive in early 2024.

Health reform framework in the autumn

"Reforms are key" and all that we have now are remnants of past administrations, policies, circumstances, weaknesses as well as daring, he said.

He singled out the judicial reform, resolutely stating that "the judiciary is not the HDZ's."

State administration will be strengthened because it must be more efficient, counties will not be changed but there is room to merge municipalities, which will cut costs, Plenković said.

The privatisation of the state-owned portfolio will continue while advancing corporate management, he said, also underlining the importance of education and health reform.

Healthcare has generated enormous expenses for years, but there is a concept of a solution which should be hammered out in the near future, Plenković said, adding that many laws would be amended in the autumn to make it easier to run the health system.

He said it was necessary to make progress in demography and also highlighted climate change.

"It would have been better had we solved some things faster," he said, but added that with "these three to four steps we will do in the next two and a half years, and (with) the money we ensured for the next ten years, we have indeed created prerequisites for development that we never had."

Vaccination is also an economic issue

Plenković called on citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it was also an economic and financial issue, and that the tourist season could be lost if Croatia was declared unsafe.

He said it was a matter of personal responsibility and warned about the threat of new variants and a fourth wave of coronavirus.

Croatia's road to independence was difficult and demanding

Looking back over the past 30 years, Plenković recalled that Croatia had been a victim of Greater Serbia aggression but that it managed to build an army and defend its freedom.

He said the 1991-95 war claimed many lives and caused big destruction, which cost Croatia 15 years of development because pre-war GDP was restored only in 2004. He said 15% of homes were destroyed, that the war damage amounted to 160% of the pre-war GDP, and that over 150,000 houses were rebuilt after the war.

Plenković said the second decade of Croatia's independence saw the beginning of economic transition and key steps towards the realisation of geostrategic goals, including joining NATO in 2009 and completing EU accession negotiations by the end of 2011.

Those were years of strong GDP growth, but will lots of borrowing, followed by the global crisis which lasted until 2013, when we joined the EU, a historic success, he said.

He added, however, that Croatia started utilising the benefits of EU membership only in 2016 because only 9% of the funds available had been contracted by then, as against 120% now.

Plenković said that between 2012 and 2015 Croatia fell from 61 to 60% of the EU's GDP average, while in the past five years, before COVID-19, GDP per capita was raised to 65%, falling to 64% now.

He said that in the past five years quality of living had improved, with considerably higher wages, pensions, and social and maternity allowances. The average net pay in that period went up by HRK 1,440 to 7,082 this past April, while the minimum net pay went up by HRK 904 to 3,400, he added.

Speaking of employment, Plenković said the number of pension insurees fell by 90,000 between 2009 and 2016, while going up by 134,000 to over 1.5 million in the past five years.

He said the biggest problem of his first term in office, from 2016 to 2020, was saving the Agrokor conglomerate from bankruptcy, adding that the Petrokemija company was restructured and shipyards' debts were settled during that term also.

He recalled that for the first time, Croatia had a budget surplus for three consecutive years. "Before the pandemic, we relieved the corporate sector by more than HRK 11 billion in taxes and administration, the credit rating was raised to investment level."

Strong international position

Plenković said Croatia had a strong international position and that EU funds helped to carry out strategic projects such as the LNG terminal on Krk island.

He said he expected the U.S. to waive visas for Croatian citizens this autumn, also because of the good political and military ties.

He said good relations had been built with China and that China helped Croatia a lot at the start of the pandemic.

Plenković went on to say that Croatia had secured another €25 billion from the EU for the next ten years, and that it was in a more difficult situation than others because of the two strong earthquakes that hit last year.

The COVID crisis has cost us HRK 34 billion, he said, adding that unlike Croatia other countries did not have HRK 128 billion in earthquake damage.

We have ensured HRK 11.1 billion for wages and 700,000 jobs have been retained in the past 15 months, he said.

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan was made for green and digital transition, he said, confident that the realisation of the measures contained therein in the next two years would ensure an additional GDP growth of 1.4%.

For more on politics in  Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Friday, 28 May 2021

PM Says Croatia to Have Most Advanced Fighter Jets in This Part of Europe

ZAGREB, 28 May 2021 - By purchasing 12 F3-R Rafale jets Croatia will obtain the most advanced combat aircraft in this part of Europe, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday.

"With today's decision we are not only making the biggest investment in Croatia's Armed Forces since the country gained independence, we are making the biggest investment in a lasting peace and security for Croatian citizens," Plenković said at a government session.

By procuring fighter jets, Croatia is gaining a powerful strategic deterrent for the next 30 to 40 years, which significantly strengthens its international position and its airspace protection and multiplies the overall combat capability of the Croatian Army, said Plenković.

Offer includes training, weapons and year-long warranty

He noted that in addition to the aircraft, the French offer also includes a flight simulator, basic weapons package, ground and test equipment, spare parts, staff training according to the principle of "training of trainers", comprehensive support from authorised representatives of manufacturers for a period of three years and a warranty of 12 months per each delivered aircraft, engine, other equipment and spare parts.

Plenković added that the purchase of Rafale planes would make the protection of Croatia's sovereignty on land, at sea and in the air much more effective, and that the country would acquire a powerful strategic instrument of deterrence, thus raising national security to an unprecedented level.

"The purchase of a multi-role fighter aircraft will strengthen Croatia’s position as an ally within NATO and a partner within the European Union. With this move, Croatia will for the first time reach the level of spending of 2% of GDP for strengthening its defense capabilities, which is the goal of all NATO members," said Plenković.

By significantly increasing its security, Croatia will become more attractive to foreign investors because it will enhance the security of their investments, which in the long run will contribute to a better credit rating and economic development of the country, said Plenković.

The purchase also creates new possibilities for the defence industry in terms of research and development.

Plenković thanked the bidding countries -- the United States, Sweden and Israel -- for their high quality offers and the effort invested in that demanding process, congratulating all involved in the process on protecting its integrity and confidentiality.

"I am particularly pleased to be making this decision today, on Croatian Army Day, as a token of lasting gratitude to defenders and soldiers, those who gave everything for Croatia and those who are always faithful to the homeland," said Plenković.

Defence minister: Partnership with state, not aircraft manufacturer 

Defence minister Mario Banožić said that considering the value of the project, the decision to buy French aircraft was the biggest investment in the army since the 1990s.

He noted that it would enhance the Air Force fighter component's capability and potential and significantly increase the overall combat capabilities of the Croatian Army as well as help maintain the tradition of combat aviation in Croatia.

"As a NATO member Croatia has the obligation to invest in its own defence capabilities by making contributions to the defence budget and also in the part referring to equipment and modernisation," said Banožić.

He added that the decision showed Croatia's determination to develop its own defence capabilities to contribute to its own security and defence as well as that of NATO and the EU.

Recalling the course of negotiations on the purchase of the aircraft, the minister said that the project would be implemented at the government level and that it envisaged partnership with the country from which the aircraft came, and not the manufacturer.

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

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, 28 May 2021

Croatia Buying 12 Rafale F3R Fighter Jets for €999m

ZAGREB, 28 May 2021 - The Croatian government will procure 12 used French multipurpose fighter jets Dassault Rafale F3R for €999 million, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday.

"The government assessed that the French offer was the best," he said at a cabinet meeting, adding that ten single-seat and two twin-seat jets would be procured.

Plenković said the Dassault Rafale F3R was a latest generation aircraft and that it was considered among the best in the world.

"The French offer turned out to be the best because Croatia is getting the best-assessed and equipped aircraft for the least money," he said, adding that the offer was the most favourable one with the best payment in instalments that would not slow down Croatia's accession to the euro area.

Besides the Rafale, bids were submitted by the US, the latest F-16 Block 70, Sweden, the new JAS 39 Gripen C/D, and Israel, the used F-16 Barak.

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

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Fighter Jet Decision to Alter Croatian Military Import-Export Balance

May the 22nd, 2021 - The Croatian military and its export-import balance is set to alter quite significantly following the country finally having made a decision on the purchase of fighter jets, ending a saga which seemed to be endless.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Brnic writes, Croatian military export-import balances are going to undergo changes over the coming years, because after a recent session of the Defense Council, it has now become clear that the Croatian Government will finally make the official final decision on the procurement of a combat squadron next week.

This decision will primarily change the current relationship in which Croatia exports more weapons and other military goods and services than it imports.

Last year, according to a report submitted to the Government by Economy Minister Tomislav Coric yesterday, Croatian military exports in 2020 were worth a total of 835 million kuna, and imports amounted to just under 129 million kuna.

The report doesn't provide a detailed overview of those exporters, nor does it go into deal about the types of goods and services it deals in, but most of the exports relate to HS Produkt, the Karlovac-based arms manufacturer, which normally accounts for the majority of exports, followed by Sestan-Busch, which produces helmets, and Dok-ing, which sells its self-propelled machines for demining, and Viktor Lenac from Rijeka, which was engaged in the overhaul of vessels belonging to the US 6th Fleet.

Last year was significantly better than pre-pandemic 2019, which isn't something many can boast of, and which was otherwise one of the worst for the military industry, in which exports stood at 493 million kuna. The record year for Croatian military exports was 2016 with almost 1.7 billion kuna in exports, twice as much as was recorded last year.

If the government concludes a contract to procure the French Rafale, finally putting an end to the very tiresome story surrounding fighter jet procurement, the first of those planes would start arriving in Croatia during 2024, when, depending on the agreed terms, imports of the military sector are likely to jump by 100 million euros per year.

However, if the military connection between Croatia and France, which is the most militarily powerful member of the EU following the departure of Great Britain, follows, there are justified expectations that additional space will need to be found for the Croatian military industry.

Since Croatian producers, as well as institutes and faculties, are interested in the establishment of the European Defense Fund, which will initially boast of figures of between 5 and 7 billion euros in the coming years, it is more than clear why more and more Croatian producers want to dip their toes into the lucrative niche of military production.

For more, follow our dedicated politics 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, 10 September 2020

Milanovic in Principle for US Offer for Fighter Jets

ZAGREB, September 10, 2020 - President Zoran Milanovic said on Thursday that the American offer for multi-purpose fighter jets should be given priority in principle, although price and expert judgement would ultimately be the decisive factors.

"American aircraft should be the first choice. I say that completely openly. There are many reasons for that -- they have donated a lot of equipment to us, they are still donating. I can say this publicly because I am not participating in the procurement," said Milanovic, asked about the best offer for fighter jets after four countries submitted their bids, and the United States are offering new F-16 Block 70 aircraft.

He underscored that both the price and what is obtained for it will be the decisive factors, and the decision would be made by experts and the government.

"If we have decided to get 12 fighter jets, let us get them. But we need 12 new jets or minimally used, not jets used in war, or in Syria," said Milanovic.

He also commented on the commission on the purchase of fighter aircraft, saying that some "characters" first decide on procurement and then, in the second phase, give their opinion on what they had previously decided.

"There is a functional dilemma here," said Milanovic. He especially pointed out the fact that the head of the Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA), Daniel Markic, and Croatian Army Chief of Staff Robert Hranj, who is, he said, a naval admiral, not an expert on aircraft, were members of the commission.

Milanovic said that, for the sake of peace, he would support the work of the commission on the procurement of the jets but that he and his associates would not partake in the decision-making "so they do not give an opinion on something they participated in."

"That would be a conflict of interest," Milanovic said.

 

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Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Has Government Arranged Fighter Jet Purchase Despite Economic Woes?

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Darko Bicak writes on the 7th of September, 2020, among the countries that have assessed that they don't need to maintain a jet air force are Slovenia, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and others. But what of the seemingly endless saga surrounding Croatia's fighter jet purchase?

Although only ten days ago it seemed that Croatia had officially given up on the fighter jet purchase, it has become a top political and media topic over recent days yet again. Namely, after the failure of the deal to procure the somewhat infamous F-16 Barak from Israel earlier this year, the plan was to select the best bidder in May, and then sign a contract with the best bidder until the planned parliamentary elections in late autumn, at least in theory. However, the coronavirus crisis and the consequent economic issues which are still developing initially extinguished such plans, and in April, due to the intervention budget revision, the Government announced that it was giving up on continuing the VBA procurement process ''for now''.

The situation with the fighter jet purchase and the saga which goes with it hasn't disappeared entirely, especially not after former and current Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic took an unexpectedly high victory in the early parliamentary elections. The position of Minister of Defense was taken up by the relatively unknown Mario Banozic, instead of retired General Damir Krsticevic, who went into political isolation. Namely, in his inaugural speech at the end of July, Banozic pointed out that he expects that by the end of the mandate of this government, ie in mid-2024, a decision will be made on the best fighter aircraft bidder.

An agreement has already been signed with neighbouring Hungary, which protects the Croatian skies at night with its Gripen, because Croatia's MiG-21s allegedly cannot fly at night. In the event that Croatia can no longer have this performed, this more or less formal task at the request of NATO, the Hungarians, and perhaps some other allies, primarily the Italians, would take over the daily surveillance of Croatian airspace.

This principle of Allied assistance for air policing, free of charge based on the principle of solidarity, is applied by about 10 smaller, not necessarily poorer, NATO members who have assessed that it is too expensive or unnecessary for them to maintain a jet air force - Slovenia, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.

In August, news arrived that the National Assembly in France was discussing aid to its military industry Dassault and where, among other things, it was mentioned that France would deliver a number of its used Rafale fighters to Croatia. The news was received globally with astonishment because the French hadn't sold a used Rafale to anyone so far, and the aircraft has been operational since back in 2000. The fact that France is serious about the expansion of its faltering aviation industry was shown last week when, due to the latest Greek-Turkish crisis, an offer came from Paris to deliver 18 Rafales, 10 of them newly produced, as well as eight used ones would come as a donation. Knowing about the pro-European orientation and ambitions of Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic, to many this option with the French didn't seem like mission impossible at all.

An unimaginable investment

However, last week, the Croatian public was further agitated by the news that an unknown American company had offered Croatia used American F-16s at a "reasonable" price of about 10 million dollars per piece and the possibility of an advanced upgrade, for which they allegedly have all US government approvals.

These are relatively old 1990s Block 20 aircraft that were certainly made for Taiwan, 150 of them, because no one else used the Block 20, but which are supposedly in solid condition and could be upgraded to the Block 50 standard. / 52. The offer provides the possibility of purchasing 12 to 30 aircraft. It isn't entirely clear whether this offer really arrived in such a form, but the fact that things are indeed happening here has been confirmed by the nervous appearance of Minister Banozic, who didn't deny the news but attacked its source, the Obris portal and its owner Igor Tabak, whom he described as " a self-proclaimed military analyst'', among other things.

In addition to the above, Vecernji list failed to get specific information from the US Embassy in Zagreb on the topic of the fighter jet purchase. It is certain that something serious is being prepared in regard to the aircraft and it is possible that sme decisions may have already been made, although they have of course not publicly disclosed. In true Croatian fashion, we have once again come full circle and returned more or less back to the very beginning of the fighter jet purchase saga which seems to just keep getting more and more chapters to it.

Just who will pay for all of it and with what money in a situation like this? Croatia is preparing for a major or minor economic collapse that will mean a 15-20 percent drop in GDP per quarter, tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of laid off workers, a health care system that is bursting at the seams because of the pandemic and debts measured in billions of kuna, not to mention the earthquake which has forced many Zagreb residents to live in demolished or dilapidated apartments waiting for help and reconstruction.

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