Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Two Opposition MPs Accuse Gov't of Vaccination Delays

ZAGREB, 24 March (Hina) - Andreja Marić of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Rada Borić of the New Left party on Wednesday critcised the Croatian government as well as the European Commission over procrastination in administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Addressing the national parliament, Andreja Marić said that the Croatian government failed this test.

Until three days ago, a mere 470,000 doses of all vaccine producers were delivered to Croatia, which is only 14 doses per 100 inhabitants, Marić said.

To date, 358,000 doses have been administered, and 8.9% of citizens have received one shot so far of the two-dose vaccine and 2.2% have been inoculated with both doses. Only Bulgaria and Latvia have fared worse than Croatia in the European Union, she said.

Marić insists that delays in coronavirus vaccine deliveries are not the result of the unjust distribution inside the European Union but a consequence of Croatia's wrong decision to rely on AstraZeneca vaccines at the beginning.

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

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Opposition Says Bill on Seeds Harmful

ZAGREB, 24 March, 2021 - Opposition deputies, notably those form the Bridge party, said on Wednesday that the bill on seeds and seed materials was harmful and that it would impose new costs, asking that the agriculture minister address the parliament with regard to the bill.

Bridge MP Miro Bulj called on members of the parliamentary majority not to support the bill, describing it as harmful.

"Instead of protecting our own seeds, we are imposing on hundreds of thousands of people who live in rural areas new costs related to seed processing. Who will be able to pay for that?" Bulj asked.

Bridge MP Marija Selak Raspudić said the bill declared war on small producers.

Social Democrat Domagoj Hajduković, too, criticised the obligation to process seeds to be planted on own fields, saying that it would cause new costs for producers.

The opposition also demanded an answer as to the reason for the introduction of a new category, farm seeds, which, they said, did not exist in the EU.

Other countries are not familiar with that term, said Anka Mrak Taritaš of GLAS.

We are introducing new terms and increasing costs for our farmers even though no one is asking us to do so, said Ružica Vukovac of the Homeland Movement.

The State Secretary at the Agriculture Ministry, Tugomir Majdak, dismissed the criticism, noting that small producers, hobbysts, gardeners and organic farmers would be exempt from the obligation to process seeds.

"The term farm seed is being introduced and that seed will have to be processed by registered suppliers to ensure minimum possible presence of harmful organisms," he told MPs.

Seed and the seed material are strategic products which must be available, safe and of good quality. The bill is aimed at regulating production, trade in and import of farming production materials, he said, noting that the bill does not restrict the use of autochthonous seeds for one's own noncommercial needs.

Specifically, in the case of seed exchange at fairs, production on small farms, seed exchange between individuals and groups, there will be no restrictions, certification or control of such seeds, he said.

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

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Judiciary Committee to Call Thematic Session on Situation in Judiciary

ZAGREB, 23 March, 2021 - The parliamentary Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously supported a proposal to call a session focusing on the situation in the Croatian judiciary.

The schedule and the list of guests is to be defined by the end of the week, after which the date for the thematic session of the committee will be set, Committee chair Mišel Jakšić of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) said.

He said the committee could invite Justice Minister Ivan Malenica, Supreme Court President Đuro Sessa and State Judicial Council (DSV) President Darko Milković.

"It is clear from the public perception that people do not trust the judiciary, they believe that corruption in state institutions is widespread," Jakšić said, stressing that it is necessary to start a discussion about that and put forward concrete proposals for improving the situation in the judiciary.

Jakšić said that he would not want former Dinamo football club boss Zdravko Mamić, recently sentenced to six and a half years in prison for siphoning money from the club, to be the main topic of the committee session, stressing that his case should be dealt with by judicial bodies.

As for media reports alleging former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's involvement in corruption, Jakšić said he expected those reports to be investigated, calling the accusations horrible and "an attack on the judiciary and the foundations of the state."

Dražen Bošnjaković (HDZ), chair of the parliamentary Committee on the Constitution and Standing Orders and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that problems that had lately escalated required a special committee session to discuss them.

He said that he did not have information that Mamić had co-financed Grabar-Kitarović's presidential campaign, adding only that the law on the financing of political parties and political campaigns envisaged very transparent publication of all information and the opening of separate accounts to see what is being financed and who finances what.

"Zdravko Mamić can say anything he wants, but all those statements have to be checked," he said.

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

Friday, 19 March 2021

Parliament Amends Law to Ban Large-Scale Hydraulic Fracturing

ZAGREB, 19 March, 2021 - The Croatian parliament on Friday supported by a majority vote amendments to the Act on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Exploitation enhancing the transparency of those processes, with public participation, and banning large-scale hydraulic fracturing.

The amendments define more precisely procedures related to all oil mining activities and prevent the overlapping of more investors in a single area conducting different activities.

For the sake of development and use of renewable energy sources, Croatia's geothermal potential will be promoted by authorising the Hydrocarbon Agency to carry out exploratory activities and establish a development company promoting the development and use of geothermal potential.

Large-scale hydraulic fracturing is banned as a risky and dangerous activity, even though other exploratory activities using the fracturing method are still allowed.

Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique involving the fracturing of bedrock formations by a pressurised liquid. The process is used to recover gas and oil from shale rock and is very controversial and questionable from the point of view of environmental protection and preservation.

The parliament also amended by a majority vote the Act on Road Transport which defines the co-financing of public road transport, notably bus lines in rural areas.

The cancellation of nonprofitable bus lines in some areas, notably those that are sparsely populated, makes normal life for citizens more difficult and the situation has been additionally worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, which is why the government decided to ensure co-funding for public passenger road transport.

The amended law also exempts taxi drivers who have provided that service  under earlier regulations from the obligation of having to pass a professional competence exam.

The parliament also amended the Act on the Security of Sea Ships and Ports under which all ports must have security assessments ready.

The parliament adopted a national programme for the protection of consumers for the period from 2021 to 2024, a strategic document designed to enhance the efficiency of market supervision and better consumer information and education.

MPs also unanimously supported the establishment of an office for projects of the World Meteorological Organisation in Croatia.

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

Friday, 19 March 2021

Tena Šimonović Einwalter Elected Public Ombudswoman

ZAGREB, 19 March, 2021 - Lawyer Tena Šimonović Einwalter is the new Public Ombudswoman, the Croatian parliament decided on Friday by secret ballot.

A total of 115 MPs voted for her election, while the other candidate, lawyer Sandra Hančić, received the support of one MP, Deputy Speaker Željko Reiner said.

Šimonović Einwalter, elected for a term of eight years, was since 2013 a deputy to Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović, whose term expired on 1 March and who did not apply for re-election.

Five candidates had applied for the post, and after one candidate was eliminated for not having complete documentation, the remaining four were interviewed and Šimonović Einwalter and Hančić were proposed to the parliament.

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

Friday, 19 March 2021

Croatian Competition Agency Praised by Both Ruling and Opposition MPs

ZAGREB, 19 March, 2021 - The performance of the Croatian Competition Agency (AZTN) in 2019 was praised on Friday by lawmakers from both the ruling majority and the Opposition.

The report about the agency's activities in 2019 shows that the regulator settled 772 cases that year. The AZTN Council vice-president Vesna Patrlj today informed the parliament that while the agency was receiving more and more cases, it was faced with a decrease in the headcount.

In late 2019, it employed 52 workers and now it has two fewer employees.

"Wages are very low, while the work is very complex, and the training of employees takes some time," Patrlj said in her response to SDP lawmaker Andrea Marić who asked how highly educated people could be motivated to work in this regulator.

In 2019, the regulator issued HRK 4 million in fines and established the existence of two cartels, that is unlawful alliances of rivals, which is considered to be anti-competitive behaviour. The cartels were detrimental to consumers, Patrljsaid without specifying.

In one of the two cases, a user reported this unlawful association and in the other case, the regulator detected it after the participants in the cartel boasted of it in media statements.

Patrlj also called for promotion of the culture of market competition.

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

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Opposition Slams Liberalisation of Tourist Guide Market

ZAGREB, 18 March, 2021 - The parliamentary opposition on Thursday strongly criticised the opening of the domestic labour market to tourist guides from other EU countries, saying they often did not have the required qualifications nor could they do as good a job as domestic guides.

Marin Miletić (Bridge) said a bill of amendments to the law on tourism services would allow foreign guides to present Croatia without sufficient education. "Such a presentation will be superficial and disorganised, and the tourist experience incomplete."

Hrvoje Zekanović (Sovereignists) said what guides said was important but that the way they spoke about a locality, whether it was with love, a stand and empathy, was much more important.

Katica Glamuzina (Social Democrats) said the bill did not take into accounts the remarks made by tourist guides and professionals, while her party colleague Boška Ban Vlahek said it destroyed the profession of Croatia's 5,500 guides.

Mato Franković of the ruling HDZ said that although he felt that Croatia should align with European regulations, the bill was not fully worked out regarding tourist guides.

"It's not unimportant who will guide groups in protected localities and how, nor is it enough to pass an exam in a couple of months and guide, for example, the sightseeing of Dubrovnik," he said, announcing amendments for stricter educational requirements for foreign guides.

Marijana Balić (HDZ) said it was important to prevent a potential misinterpretation of Croatian history and that special attention should be paid to localities of special respect such as Vukovar.

Only guides who pass Croatian language exam at protected localities

Tourism Ministry state secretary Tonči Glavina said only licenced guides who pass a Croatian language exam would be able to work in Croatia's 550-plus protected localities.

"That course will be available only in Croatia and the exam will be only in Croatian in front of a commission including our tourist guides," he said, defending the bill.

He said that guides coming with a group, from Germany for example, would be able to guide the group only in a general public area, talking about Split or Šibenik in general, for example, while only licenced guides would be allowed to work in protected localities.

The only change the bill brings is that foreign guides will not have to pass a special exam for Croatia's 21 counties but for regions, or another model will be used, Glavina said.

About 70 foreign guides stay in Croatia annually and they do so for two to three weeks, he said.

The law on tourism services is being amended due to two violations of EU law regarding package travel and the regulation of the profession of tourist guide.

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

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Parliamentary Opposition: Additional Rights For War Veterans Unnecessary

ZAGREB, 17 March, 2021 - Some parliamentary opposition parties on Wednesday criticised amendments to the Act on the Rights of Homeland War Veterans, saying that they unnecessarily expanded rights for that group, while the ruling majority dismissed their claims.

Damir Bakić of the Green-Left Bloc said the bill was harmful as it introduced in more than one way additional and not necessarily needed benefits, both financial and non-financial, for war veterans and members of their families.

"That will additionally move them away from society and real life, as if we were creating a new caste for which special rules apply," said Bakić.

Under the amendments, members of the families of fallen war veterans that already have their housing problems solved will each be able to regulate their housing needs under the bill, obstacles to one-off financial aid are being removed, the scope of persons who are given priority in employment is being expanded, Bakić said, citing some of the examples.

Silvano Hrelja of the Croatian Pensioner Party/Croatian Peasant Party group said he had nothing against war veterans being first-class citizens but that he was against pensioners being second-class citizens, so he proposed amendment of the Pension Insurance Act.

"The existing law on war veterans is good and what is now being proposed should be scrapped. Too much is too much," said Hrelja.

He stressed that defenders and disabled war veterans were worthy of everyone and every generation's respect, without special privileges and benefits.

Social Democrat Martina Vlašić-Iljkić said it was not necessary to additionally expand veterans' rights.

"How long will this continue? 25 years after the war the status of war veteran and disabled war veteran is being recognised," she asked, noting that care for war veterans was good, especially if compared to care for other groups such as pensioners, the socially deprived and civilians with disabilities.

Marijana Balić of the ruling HDZ party said the amendments were not about additional rights but exclusively about technical organisation regarding the exercise of rights from a law adopted in 2017, expediting procedures for granting the status of disabled war veteran, housing provision procedures, social rights and adjustment of pension insurance-related rights.

Miro Bulj (Bridge) and Željko Sačić (Sovereignists) said that they supported amendments designed to expedite procedures but noted that they could not help but think that they were being proposed for election purposes, and their view was supported by Stipo Mlinarić of the Homeland Movement.

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

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović: "Absence of Parliamentary Debate Has Many Repercussions"

ZAGREB, 16 March, 2021 - In her report on 2020, Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović warns that her recommendations are less and less complied with, which, she believes, can also be attributed to the fact that the parliament has still not discussed her reports for 2018 and 2019, a fact that has a number of long-term repercussions.

"An analysis of the government's opinion on the report for 2019 shows that the competent bodies acted or act in only 20% of the recommendations, which is less also in relation to the report for 2015 (29%), which the parliament did not adopt," says Vidović, whose eight-year term expired on 1 March. She did not apply for re-election.

"Especially worrying is the government's failure to respond to as many as 60% of the recommendations," says Vidović, who in her report for 2020 gave as many as 142 recommendations for stronger human rights protection in almost all areas of life, addressing them mostly to the competent ministries.

She also says that the Office for Human and Ethnic Minority Rights, as the body in charge of reporting on the implementation of the public ombudsman's reports, has not done so since her report for 2013.

"The absence of parliamentary debate evidently has a number of long-term repercussions that do not contribute to better human rights protection," says Vidović, noting that the Ministry of the Interior is still denying her office direct access to data on the treatment of irregular migrants in its computer system.

Most complaints refer to health system

The Office of the Public Ombudswoman, which in 2020 had 53 employees, acted in close to 5,000 cases, of which slightly over 2,900 were new ones, an increase of 16% from 2019.

This was mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic and earthquakes which have strongly affected human rights in Croatia, Vidović says, noting that just as in 2019, most of the complaints last year referred to the health system (328). For the first time, among the five most frequent types of complaints, with an increase of 49%, were public utilities.

Around 10% of all the new cases referred to the coronavirus epidemic and the number of such complaints would have probably been much higher had the office of the public ombudswoman not been damaged in the 22 March 2020 earthquake, which prevented it from receiving complaints regularly in the first months of the epidemic.  

The epidemic has strongly affected both patients and health workers, who have taken the brunt of the health crisis, Vidović says.

As regards patients, according to data from the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (HZZO), in the first ten months of 2020 the number of visits to family doctors dropped by 21.5% compared to 2019, the number of visits by pre-school children dropped by 22.6%, and of those by women by 20.7%. At the same time, the number of services for which physical contact is not necessary rose by one-third.

Members of the public complained to the ombudswoman about having to wait in lines outside health clinics, having to speak about their health problems and family circumstances without any privacy and about being examined through the window of their family doctor's office.

Waiting lists for specialist examinations have not grown smaller and for certain types of examinations they have grown longer. The epidemic and the mobilisation of the health system in March and April, when only medical emergencies and COVID-19 cases were dealt with, caused a new disruption because a large number of examinations, diagnostic procedures and surgeries were cancelled or postponed until further notice, says Vidović.

According to HZZO data, the number of appointments for first-time specialist examinations dropped significantly in 2020 (from 129,356 in 2019 to 55,007), as did the number of follow-up appointments (280,599 as against 515,590 in 2019). The Health Ministry established a call centre to redirect patients to other hospitals in Zagreb but aside from that measure, the plans are not known as to how to provide citizens, within a reasonable time, with all medical services, says Vidović.

She also notes that Croatia has a shortage of family medicine teams (-121), pediatric health care teams (-52, mostly in Zagreb), dental medicine teams (-205) and gynecology teams (-58).

More than 270 decisions by national COVID-19 response team

Vidović also comments on decisions made by the national COVID-19 response team, saying that "its initial, as well as most of its subsequent decisions restricted basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and international documents, from freedom of movement and assembly to the right to privacy." She describes as particularly worrying the ban on or restriction of private gatherings.

She notes that the granting of permits to leave one's place of residence was uneven, and in some cases "some members of a household obtained them while other members of the same household were denied those permits without any explanation."

The permits also obstructed access to public services for residents of rural areas and islands, while the cancellation of public transport made health and social services in remote areas less available, notably for elderly people.

Citizens' having problem getting around the new circumstances was also due to the large number of decisions made by the national team, 271 by 13 January 2021.

Lack of timely and verified information

In her report for 2020, Vidović also comments on the Zagreb earthquake, noting that media and social networks showed that citizens did not receive timely and verified information on the competent institutions and available help, with the situation having been additionally complicated by epidemiological restrictions and restriction of movement. Public disputes about the way of financing post-earthquake reconstruction between the City of Zagreb and the competent ministry and objections that independent experts were not sufficiently consulted in the decision-making process have deepened mistrust of state institutions, she says.

She notes that "many citizens still do not know what to do and how to exercise their rights, and their mistrust of state institutions and the system is great."

By 18 January 2021, 202 applications were submitted regarding the exercise of legal rights related to reconstruction, she says, repeating that it is necessary to form mobile teams consisting of staff from the Construction Ministry and/or the City of Zagreb to advise citizens on the ground, free of charge, about their rights and help them write their applications.

The direct damage from the quake has been estimated at more than HRK 86 billion, and it is evident that reconstruction process will be long, complex and financially demanding, Vidović says in her report for 2020.

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

Friday, 12 March 2021

Parl. Parties Endorse Ratification of Classified Information Agreement With Spain

ZAGREB, 12 March, 2021 - Croatian parliamentary parties on Friday endorsed the proposal to ratify the Agreement on Mutual Protection of Classified Information between the governments of Croatia and Spain.

During the discussion, Zvonimir Troskot (Bridge) noted that Croatia and Spain had had good bilateral relations since the 1990s, sharing the same principles and goals.

"Both countries are facing the same challenges - migration, the fight against terrorism, climate change, Spanish companies are already present on our market, so why are we ratifying this agreement only now?" Troskot asked.

Juro Martinović, State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Administration, said that "there is nothing spectacularly new" in the Agreement. "States always regulate such matters. Under international law, Croatia is a successor to many agreements concluded by (former Yugoslavia)," he added.

Martinović said that the Agreement had been signed on 15 December 2020 and that it established a legal framework for the protection of classified information that is generated or exchanged between the parties, and designated competent authorities for the implementation of the Agreement. The Agreement also determines equivalent classification levels, national measures to protect classified information and mechanisms for transmission of such information.

Independent MP Marijana Petir asked Martinović if Croatia had similar agreements with other EU countries and whether there had been any violations of those agreements, to which he said that he had no knowledge of any violations.

Ivan Budalić of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) said that Croatia had similar agreements with many countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Sweden and Italy. 

Dalija Orešković (Centre party) was interested to know who had decided on concluding the Agreement, who had appointed the delegation and whether the President of the Republic was involved in the process, to which Martinović said that the Agreement enters into force after it is signed by the President of the Republic and published in the Official Gazette and the two governments exchange notes.

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

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