Monday, 15 March 2021

Plenković: Croatia Expects to Join Eurozone and Schengen in 3 Years

ZAGREB, 15 March, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in an interview with the Politico news website published on Monday that it was reasonable to expect that Croatia would enter the eurozone and the Schengen area by the second half of 2024.

"The idea is to do both — accession to Schengen and the eurozone — by the end of this government’s term, so the second half of 2024," Plenković said. "It’s tough, but reasonable."

The European Commission said in 2019 that Croatia had fulfilled all the technical requirements for entry into the Schengen passport-free travel zone, and this should now be endorsed by other member states. Romania and Bulgaria have been waiting for this to happen for years.

In mid-2020 Croatia was admitted to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), a key step towards eurozone membership.

Plenković said that because of the coronavirus crisis the eurozone members could be expected to continue suspending their own rules for fiscal discipline, while those on the path to join the euro could not rely on "such easy self-help tricks."

He expressed regret that Croatia had "stepped away from consolidation and sound public finances" to limit the economic damage of the crisis.

Plenković said that his government would pursue two goals: "Using the recovery fund, the EU budget and private investment to generate growth. And the other one: Go back to the framework of 2017-2019, when my government achieved a budget surplus."

The prime minister said he believed Croatia would be able to spend the first euro from the EU recovery fund at the beginning of next year, adding that it was a complicated process. "Unless it’s helicopter money, it’s very difficult and complex. You need a plan, a project, verification, tender, implementation, documentation. If it goes faster, we’ll gladly spend it, but if I’m realistic …"

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

Monday, 8 March 2021

PM: Women Have Made Families and Society Better Through Work and Commitment

ZAGREB, 8 March, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković extended his best wishes to women for International Women's Day on Monday.

"Women have made our families and our society better through their work and commitment. This is a special day to thank them for their invaluable contribution to creating a more equitable community," the prime minister said in his message.

He said his government would make a stronger contribution to women's equality in Croatian society by adopting various employment schemes for women, achieving equal conditions on the labour market, promoting demographic measures and resolutely combating all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

PM Says Government Has Done Utmost to Protect People's Health

ZAGREB, 25 February, 2021 - Recapping the year-long fight against COVID-19, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday the government had taken appropriate measures and done its best to protect people's health, thanking people for behaving responsibly and understanding a situation no one could have predicted.

The first coronavirus case in Croatia was registered a year ago today. Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Plenković said that from day one the necessary protective equipment had been provided and the continuation of education and activities in culture and the arts taken into account.

The economy has been taken into account the entire time, he said. "Job-retention measures have been very abundant. We never thought we would give so much money to retain jobs in the private sector, to workers, employers."

Pensions have been paid as well and the number of the jobless has been as before the pandemic, Plenković said.

"And we have done all that while ensuring financial stability in such a way that Croatia is keeping its investment credit rating and stepping through the European Exchange Rate Mechanism towards the euro area... We have concluded good financial arrangements both with the HNB (Croatian National Bank) and the European Central Bank, with Croatian banks and pension funds, with all stakeholders who have made it possible for everything to function."

Plenković regretted that certain activities had been restricted. "That's not something we are doing because we want to, it's what all governments are doing, all countries around the world, to protect people's health."

Vaccine distribution needs to be stepped up

Plenković said he would push for stepping up the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at EU level which, he added, the European Council would discuss today, in order to vaccinate as many people as soon as possible, notably those most vulnerable.

"I'm confident the announcement of 700,000 doses in total by the end of March will be a strong barrier against the spread of the epidemic, and we expect even larger quantities. Our message today will also go to the EMA (European Medicines Agency) to approve vaccines more quickly, first and foremost Johnson&Johnson's, which is under way and which we have ordered in 900,000 doses."

Plenković said the government had reserved the vaccines on time, even more than necessary in order to vaccinate everyone over 18 years of age, with 6.8 million doses ordered to date. "We will continue to make an effort, the responsibility is big."

He extended his condolences to the families of the 5,500 Croatian citizens who have died "of COVID or with COVID."

"Those are great losses. We sympathise with their families. We regret it very much. And I thank all fellow citizens for behaving responsibly and understanding the context which has been going on for a year and which no one could have planned for."

Thursday, 25 February 2021

PM Appeals for Caution Despite Better COVID-19 Situation

ZAGREB, 25 February, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that Croatia's weekly COVID-19 numbers had been falling for the past ten weeks, dropping almost eleven-fold.

"In relation to last Thursday, we are registering a certain growth on the weekly level, but at the moment we can't say with certainty what the causes of this trend are, whether it was because of the cold, the relaxation of measures or a broader relaxation in the model of behaviour," he said at a cabinet meeting, appealing for continuing to be very cautious.

He said that together with Denmark, Croatia had the lowest weekly incidence of new infections in the EU.

"We have several smaller clusters in a couple of counties so we shouldn't be too relaxed at the moment," Plenković said.

"We are trying to protect health, the economy, keep up financial stability, salaries, pensions, job-retention aid, and everything we are doing, we are doing in the interest of Croatian citizens."

Thursday, 11 February 2021

PM: AstraZeneca Vaccine Protects Elderly from Death, Ventilators, Graver Symptoms

ZAGREB, 11 February, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine protected the elderly against death, ventilators and more serious symptoms, and that therefore there were no obstacles to administering it to people over 65.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, he said that this morning he spoke with representatives of pensioner unions and associations which demand that people over 65 are not given the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Plenković told the public, notably older people, that all three COVID vaccines, Pfizer's, Moderna's and AstraZeneca's, "are 100% effective against death, against situations on ventilators and more serious symptoms."

He said that according to the information at the government's disposal, there were no obstacles to people over 65 receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"We believe that in these circumstances as many people as possible whose health is at risk, whose health is fragile, who are older, to whom coronavirus can cause major health damage in a short time, should be vaccinated."

Plenković said additional studies and trials would confirm that the AstraZeneca vaccine was equally effective in reducing the number of COVID deaths in Croatia.

The number of new infections keeps falling

Speaking of the epidemic, he said the decrease in new infections was continuing, as confirmed by this week's numbers.

Today Croatia is third in the EU by the weekly average of confirmed cases per million inhabitants and has the fifth largest two-week decrease in COVID deaths, he added.

"We are in the winter months and a strong cold wave has been announced, the British virus strain has been identified, so many European countries, which have much stricter measures, are extending or further restricting them."

Plenković said there were indications that vaccine deliveries would step up and that greater quantities could be expected by the end of March.

Croatia has received about 150,000 doses, another 600,000 are expected by the end of March, so it will be possible to vaccinate a markedly larger number of people, he added.

It is important that the Health Ministry, the Croatian Institute of Public Health, hospitals and general practitioners ensure mass vaccination, he said.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

PM Says Government Considering a Few Changes Regarding Epidemiological Restrictions

ZAGREB, 11 February, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday that the government was considering a few possible changes regarding the relaxation of epidemiological restrictions after 15 February and that it would present them at its session on Thursday.

Asked by reporters after a session of the HDZ branch in Zagreb if the current restrictions would be eased after 15 February, Plenković said that he believed that in the current situation citizens should be rewarded for demonstrating a high degree of patience and responsibility.

"We are considering several possible changes that will be presented at the government session tomorrow," he said.

As for the new virus strain that has appeared in Croatia, Plenković said that it was epidemiologists' duty to determine and restrict situations where the new strain emerges.

He said that South Tyrol, where infection with the new strain has been on the rise, was treated as a territory from where it is not possible to enter Croatia.

"We will try to protect Croatia with a border regime that will enable us to prevent a more significant appearance of new variants and strains. We will be careful, we have been following developments in other countries," he said.

Plenković surprised by Zagreb University Rector getting vaccinated 

Plenković was also asked to comment on Zagreb University Rector Damir Boras getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at a Zagreb dental clinic despite having previously contracted the disease and therefore not being a priority for vaccination.

Plenković said that he was surprised by that fact, declining to comment on the explanation by a health worker of how it happened that Boras got vaccinated "because I don't know anything about it".

The explanation was that Boras and his wife were vaccinated because, while they were being treated for dental problems they happened to be in the clinic on the day that the clinic's medical staff were being vaccinated. After that, three diluted doses of the vaccine were left over and Boras asked if he and his wife could be vaccinated.

"I can only take note of that explanation," the PM said.

He added that it was important to respect the vaccination schedule determined by the government.

"All county public health institutes, hospital heads and personnel in charge of vaccination and primary health care workers must follow the list of vaccination priorities," he said.

He also said that it was good that the AstraZeneca vaccine had also proved to be good for people over the age of 65 and that it provided 100% protection against death, severe forms of the disease and more severe symptoms.

"All three (available) vaccines are equally reliable and it is good that as many citizens as possible get vaccinated."

During February and March, more than 600,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be secured for Croatian citizens, he said.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Gym Owner Released from Custody, Called on Prime Minister to Resign

February 2, 2021 – The gym owner who opened his doors yesterday in Zagreb's Trešnjevka, despite the Civil Protection Headquarters' ban, has been released from custody.

Andrija Klarić, the 51-year-old gym owner, who was handed over to the custody supervisor yesterday on suspicion of having committed the criminal offense of spreading and transmitting a contagious disease, was released from custody today.

'What I did was right'

Recall, Andrija Klarić opened his gym in Trešnjevka in Zagreb yesterday morning, thus violating the current ban on the work of gyms and sports centers set by the Civil Protection Headquarters. Article 180 of the Criminal Code stipulates that a person could be punished by up to two years in prison for such an act.

However, as Index reports, the prosecution did not ask for pre-trial detention, so he was released. Klarić stated that the prosecution had no evidence against him, that he was not a spreader of the infection, and that double standards applied in Croatia because some could work while others are forbidden the constitutional right to work.

He even called on Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to resign and call elections because he believes that the government is not coping well with the coronavirus crisis. Also, he invited citizens to gather tomorrow for a protest on Ban Jelačić Square at 10 am and "oppose the deprivation of civil liberties."

"I knew that what I was doing was right. I know we're not spreaders of the virus. They don't have any evidence. Of the total number infected by November 1, 181 are from 'gyms,' which is less than 0.5 percent. They can't declare gyms dangerous places," said Klarić.

Spas and shopping malls still operating

He compared the example of gyms with spas and shopping malls that are opened.

Klarić claims that everyone in the gym adhered to epidemiological measures and that everyone who came to exercise had already gotten over the coronavirus. The police officers, the state inspectorate, and the state attorney, he says, were fair and kind. They were even "embarrassed that they had to do it."

"The police officers were phenomenal. At the end of the investigation, the gentleman said – a hero, not a criminal," Klarič said after his release from custody. He says that he would repeat the same thing in the same circumstances and does not think he did anything wrong.

"He who is ready to give freedom for security. did not deserve either. When injustice becomes the law, then resistance becomes an obligation," Klarić stressed, adding that everything possible should be done to prevent those who do wrong.

'Small step for Andrija, significant for Croatia'

His lawyer Gordan Marović also gave a statement to the media.

"He will be released. The State Attorney's Office of the Republic of Croatia (DORH) did not request pre-trial detention for him," Marović said.

"He understands this as a fight not only for his justice but also a fight for everyone. He believes that there were a lot of people not fighting for their own rights," Marović said about Klarić, adding that he feels injustice.

"The right to work is a matter of personal freedoms and human rights. The constitution guarantees the right before the law, and we see that not everyone is equal before the law because some can work, others cannot," he added.

When asked why Klarić did it, given the penalties and given that he did it himself, Marović paraphrased Neil Armstrong: "This is a small step for Andrija, but a big one for Croatia. Someone has finally put his personal interests ahead of society's interests."

To read more news from Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

PM Says Opposition Has Turned Its Back on Earthquake Victims

AGREB, 30 January, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday that by breaking the quorum in the parliament on Friday, which was why amendments to the law on post-earthquake reconstruction were not voted in, the Opposition had "impudently turned its back" on earthquake victims in the Banovina region.

"Not only did they not enable the adoption of the law on post-earthquake reconstruction, they also prevented the declaration of the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Adriatic and the adoption of the National Development Strategy, which reveals an unbelievable degree of political destructiveness and lack of political culture," the PM said after a meeting of the task force dealing with the aftermath of the 29 December earthquake in Sisak-Moslavina County, held in Petrinja.

Noting that his HDZ party would never do such a thing, Plenković stressed that amending the Act on the Post-Earthquake Reconstruction of the City of Zagreb and Zagreb and Krapina-Zagorje Counties to make it apply also to Sisak-Moslavina County would simplify procedures and enable the state to launch reconstruction mechanisms.

"The Opposition's quorum-breaking is an immoral act in the context of the fact that an MP of the ruling majority is in hospital," Plenković said in reference to HDZ MP Miroslav Tuđman, who has been hospitalised for COVID-19 and whose absence the HDZ believes the Opposition took advantage of.

Burden of responsibility lies with Opposition

Plenković went on to say that the Opposition's motion regarding the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) was incomplete, demagogical and populist, describing the Bridge party, which tabled it, as destructive populists and proponents of anti-European and anti-minority policies.

Asked when the new law on post-earthquake reconstruction would be adopted, he referred reporters to opposition leaders, telling them "to ask Mr Grbin, Mr Petrov and Mr Škoro if they plan to help Banovina."

He repeated that the parliamentary majority was strong and stable regardless of the fact that its members did not see eye to eye on some topics.

The HGK needs to be reformed but you cannot just bring down an institution that has existed for more than 160 years, he said.

Amendments to the Act on the Post-Earthquake Reconstruction of the City of Zagreb and Zagreb and Krapina-Zagorje Counties were among the motions that were to have been put to the vote in parliament on Friday.

After Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković moved from the agenda Bridge's motion to abolish the mandatory membership fee in the HGK, the Opposition walked out of the parliament, breaking the quorum. Since the HDZ-led majority was one vote short of the 76 MPs necessary to take a vote, the vote on amendments to the post-earthquake reconstruction law was postponed as well.

The Opposition has dismissed the accusations from the ruling HDZ party, accusing the ruling majority of tyranny and disregard for earthquake victims, with Social Democrat leader Peđa Grbin describing the HDZ's accusations against the Opposition with regard to HDZ MP Tuđman as shameless.

Hospitality sector, gym owners should show little more patience

Plenković today also called on cafe and restaurant owners, who have announced protests against the national COVID-19 response team's decision to keep current restrictions in force and only slightly relax some, to show a little more patience, stressing that nobody wanted to restrict business activity but that a large-scale relaxation of the restrictions would not be wise at the moment.

The restrictions will be reviewed on February 15 and if the situation then is much better than it is now and if we find room for additional relaxation, we will do it, he said.

Plenković was in Petrinja to attend the start of work on demolishing buildings that have been found unfit for use following the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Sisak-Moslavina County last month.

He said that more than 1,025 mobile housing units had been installed in the area and that work would also be stepped up on completing the motorway section running from Lekenik to Sisak for the sake of future revitalisation and economic activity in the region of Banovina.

Friday, 29 January 2021

Plenković on Quorum Being Broken: We Won't Forget This

ZAGREB, 29 January, 2021 - PM Andrej Plenković said on Friday that his HDZ party will not forget that the opposition broke the quorum in parliament due to postponement of a vote on abolishing the mandatory membership fee for the Croatian Chamber of Commerce at a time when HDZ MP Miroslav Tudjman was in hospital due to COVID-19.

"One of our MPs is in hospital because of COVID-19 and they did exactly what I thought they would. This is not about the quorum but about the fact that Mr Tudjman is unable to attend. That is a very important message. The Opposition broke the quorum knowing that one HDZ MP, the oldest in this parliament, is practically fighting for his life," Plenković told reporters after officially putting into operation the LNG terminal and the Zlobin-Omišalj interconnection.

Opposition making a show because of HRK 42 a month

We won't forget this for a long time nor should the public, he added.

As far as the membership fee for the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) is concerned, he assessed that the public has witnessed numerous populist initiatives filled with demagogy, underlining that the membership fee for all businesses with lower revenue is HRK 42 a month.

"The HRK 42 is obviously the reason for this initiative. No one is saying that the HGK could not function better, be more useful and more accessible but it has existed for 160 years or more. That is not an organisation that can be dismantled over an opposition whim or some demagogical or populist intentions," said Plenković.

"If something needs to be changed, we can discuss what can be changed but to make a political show for the sake of HRK 42 a month is something only this opposition can do," Plenković underscored.

By walking out of the parliament today the opposition prevented a vote on the amended law on post-earthquake reconstruction, the declaration of the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Adriatic and the National Development Strategy, he said, stressing again that he would not forget it.

I understand it is hard but we are assisting those who cannot work

Referring to plans by cafe and restaurant owners to stage protests because COVID-19 restrictions will not be eased, Plenković recalled that winter is a time when COVID-19 spreads more easily and that most countries are introducing even harsher restrictions than Croatia.

In many countries non-essential stores are closed. There is a ban on the work of hairdressers and many other services that are operating in Croatia, Plenković said, adding that relaxing restrictions for schools and sports was a message of support for citizens' good behaviour.

"I understand that it is difficult for anyone who is shut but I will say that the state has stood by people who cannot work and that we will give a total of HRK 2.5 billion for those who cannot conduct their commercial activities," said Plenković, appealing to everyone to have understanding for the current circumstances - the new virus strains, a slowed-down vaccination process and the winter months.

He said that neither the EU nor Croatia had considered obtaining the Russian or Chinese vaccine in light of the fact that sufficient doses had been ordered.

"If the current problems escalate, we can put those options on the table as well," he added.

Commenting on Žarko Tušek's resignation as head of the HDZ branch in Krapina-Zagorje County, Plenković said Tušek had made a serious political mistake and was suffering the consequences.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Plenković: Vaccine Diplomacy Has Turned Into Vaccine Hijacking

ZAGREB, 25 January, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the COVID vaccine diplomacy was turning into vaccine hijacking, adding that a joint EU lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers is possible if they do not meet contract obligations.

Speaking to the press, Plenković said that the European Council adopted a firm stance on Thursday that the deadline should be respected.

Some countries are paying more per dose than what the EU paid, he said, adding that that is not part of the agreement.

The prime minister said that Croatia had not yet turned towards other vaccines because the agreement was that we EU member states do not contact the manufacturers themselves.

"Once that happens, there is no joint agreement. The joint agreement must ensure that the entire at-risk population is covered by the summer, that is most important," he said.

Italy is preparing a lawsuit against Pfizer, and Plenković thinks that will be a joint activity at the EU level, adding that the Commission signed the agreement "on our behalf."

Asked whether the European Union will enter into new negotiations with the manufacturers and offer a higher price, like some countries are doing, he said he did not see the logic behind such a move.

"They should be paying penalties to us and not vice versa," the prime minister said.

I think we will provide doses for second shot

The prime minister thinks that Croatia will provide the doses necessary to administer the second shot to people who have been vaccinated. "You've heard the epidemiologists, the deadline is 21 days... There will be no danger that someone who received the first shot doesn't receive the second one in time," he said.

As for politicians, he said there were fewer than a hundred at the national level that had been vaccinated, adding that the government has concluded that it is good to vaccinate ministers who have not been infected with coronavirus.

Asked about the relaxation of epidemiological measures and the possibility that cafes and restaurant reopen in February, Plenković said that those matters were discussed in yesterday's meeting.

At the EU level, there is currently great caution due to the new strains of the virus. The vaccination dynamic has changed due to delivery slowing down, which is another reason for caution, he said.

"The figures are encouraging, the situation is more favourable than usual, but those are not ideal circumstances," the prime minister said.

"After yesterday's discussion we think that the situation is challenging," Plenković said.

Asked whether children will return to schools at the beginning of February, he said that the national COVID-19 crisis management team would explain everything at its press conference today.

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