Friday, 31 July 2020

Grbin Welcomes Deputy PMs' Gestures if They Are Forward-Looking

ZAGREB, July 31, 2020 - SDP vice president Pedja Grbin said on Friday he welcomed the announcement that Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic would attend the Operation Storm anniversary and Deputy PM Tomo Medved the Grubori commemoration if that would contribute to turning to the future and understanding that the war was over.

"Operation Storm was a victory in a war that was imposed on Croatia and everyone must accept that fact. Likewise, everyone must accept the fact that crimes were committed in the war and after Operation Storm and that some of those crimes were committed by the Croatian side," the MP told the press.

"If Milosevic's and Medved's gestures will contribute to understanding those facts and to accepting what General Ante Gotovina once said, that we must turn to the future and understand that the war is over, then I welcome those gestures," Grbin said.

"However, if this is just an empty agreement reached to keep the ruling coalition and the parliamentary majority together, then it is pointless. Until I see otherwise, I will believe that this is a well-meaning gesture and that it will contribute to the development of Croatian society, and in that context I welcome it," he added.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

PM: EU Funds Will Be for Rural Development, Demography, Agriculture

ZAGREB, July 29, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic boasted in parliament on Wednesday about the €22 billion Croatia will have at its disposal from the EU budget in the next seven years for, he said, the development of counties, agriculture, rural development, and demographic revitalisation.

MP Hrvoje Zekanovic of the Hrast party asked where the EU would find the money.

"Regarding the Next Generation EU instrument, to help member states in an unprecedented situation, when everyone's GDP is falling, the European Union will borrow on markets where there is money under the most favourable terms, money which practically doesn't cost anything and which will be paid out over the next 30 years," said Plenkovic.

Responding to MPs' comments, he said there would be money also for fishermen, local projects, and balanced regional development.

My goal was to get as much money for the national envelope as possible while compromising on programmes which apply to all and where fund absorption will depend on the activity of the stakeholders in Croatia, Plenkovic told Romana Nikolic of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who asked about the slashing of initially envisaged funds for Horizon 2020, Invest EU and health, defence and migration policies.

The prime minister disagreed with Katarina Peovic of the Workers Front that there was no solidarity, convergence or cohesion. Cohesion was achieved by the decision that the EU seeks funds for the member states among investors and on financial markets, he said.

Plenkovic dismissed Ranko Ostojic's (SDP) claim that Croatia fell short as the chair of the Council of the EU in the first half of the year, saying it was praised and thanked as well as achieving results.

Domagoj Hajdukovic (SDP) asked about Croatia's stand on making the absorption of European budget funds conditional on the rule of law. Plenkovic said Croatia was "for it" and that he did not fear a report on the rule of law in Croatia.

"You don't know much about the EU," Plenkovic told Nikola Grmoja of the Bridge party.

Nino Raspudic (Bridge) said it was a paradox that the fact that Croatia needed so much EU aid was also its biggest failure.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

PM Praises Results on Recent EU Summit in Report to Parliament

ZAGREB, July 29, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Wednesday reported to the Croatian parliament on the recent EU summit at which Croatia was granted access to €22 billion over the next seven years, which he said was a strong lever for economic recovery.

Plenkovic reported on the results of the marathon summit of EU leaders that ended on July 21 with an agreement on the post-pandemic recovery plan and seven-year budget, after which Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman presented the results of the Croatian presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of the year.

"Never before has the government presented to parliament a report of such great financial importance and with such far-reaching consequences for our economic development, our social cohesion, for the progress of Croatia and the entire European project," Plenkovic said.

Of the €1.824 trillion agreed at the summit, Croatia will have access to €22 billion, which is €165 billion over the next four, i.e. seven years, he said. "That is double the amount that was made available to us in the Multiannual Finance Framework for the past 2014-2020 period," he added.

He said that this is one of the largest amounts per capita "which will ensure that for each euro invested we get more than 4.5 euros from the EU budget."

"For Croatia, for its citizens and economy, we have ensured a strong lever for economic development over the next four, that is seven years," Plenkovic said, stressing that in this way his government had defended Croatian interests.

He said that Croatia had shown that "it is a strong state that protects its national interests, utilises its strength for the benefit of its citizens and its economy, improving its international standing through EU membership."

"Croatian citizens have seen this, they understand it and recognise it better than those who missed out on this topic 30 years ago," the prime minister said.

Financial package

The EU financial package is based on two strategically designed and related pillars: the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and the recovery plan called Next Generation EU.

Plenkovic said that Croatia had wanted the agreement to be reached because "the political responsibility of EU leaders at this point is of paramount importance." He said that Croatia had managed to ensure that the other EU member states took into account the specific position of Croatia which has so far used only one seven-year budget.

"We managed to achieve several objectives on which we had been working for months," the PM said, adding that Croatia managed to keep the national co-financing rate for cohesion and rural development at 15%, and not at 25%.

"At the same time we advocated that the rule on automatic decommitment of cohesion funds three years after their allocation, the so-called N+3 rule, should remain in place. The idea initially was that it should be N+2, but at this stage N+3 still suits us and we managed to keep it," Plenkovic said.

This gives Croatian beneficiaries a longer, three-year period to use budget funds and reduces the risk of loss and paying the money back into the EU treasury, he added.

In the next seven-year EU budget, Croatia will be have access to €12.7 billion in three envelopes: €7.5 billion for cohesion, €2.5 billion for direct payments for agriculture and €2 billion for rural development. Added to this should also be funding from different EU instruments: €270 million for fisheries, €250 million for internal security and migration, as well as funding for a fair and just green transition, research, health, education, transport and digital infrastructure.

Plenkovic said that Croatia had also managed to present to the European Union to what extent the COVID-19 pandemic had affected its tourism and other economic sectors. In this context, he also mentioned the March 22 earthquake that struck Zagreb and its environs, causing extensive damage.

Plenkovic said that Croatia had also highlighted the specific economic and demographic situation in eight of its counties that make up the Pannonian Croatia region.

"In addition to this 400 million, we also insisted on and were granted 100 million euros as aid for rural development because of specific structural challenges faced by the agricultural sector," he said and added that these arguments were part of efforts to reduce the negative demographic trends and keep young people in rural areas and in the agricultural sector.

Croatia also managed to ensure an advance of 10% of grants from the Recovery and Resilience Facility which will be paid out in 2021. These nearly 600 million euros will ease the burden on the state budget, the prime minister said.

This is important for the sake of macroeconomic stability, particularly in the light of the recent accession of Croatia to Exchange Rate Mechanism 2, a sort of waiting room membership of for the euro area.

In order for member states to obtain EU funding, they must draw up national plans in compliance with the the objectives of the EU's digital and green transition.

"A positive evaluation for disbursement of funds will be tied to the fulfilment of the relevant criteria" from plans which will be approved by the European Commission and the Council, Plenkovic said.

Croatia will prepare its plan by the end of the year and present it to parliament. On Thursday, the government will set up a special task force to solely deal with this matter, Plenkovic said, adding that he personally will chair this coordinating body.  

Monday, 27 July 2020

PM Calls Accusations against COVID Response Team 'Recycling of Topics'

ZAGREB, July 27, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Monday responded to President Zoran Milanovic's accusations that the national COVID-19 response team was a counter-constitutional body, calling it repetition and recycling of topics.

"We already resolved this story in parliament. A repetition, recycling of topics," he told the press ahead of a meeting of his HDZ party's Presidency when asked to comment on Milanovic's statement.

Plenkovic said he did not know what the Constitutional Court would say in assessing if the laws whereby the team has been given powers to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms are in line with the constitution and if some of the team's decisions are in line with the constitution and the law.

Plenkovic said he had his opinion on that. Asked why this topic was being raised again, he urged the press to ask "him (Milanovic) and them."

"We are doing everything both constitutionally and legally, good both for health and the economy. That's the key difference between those who work to protect citizens' health, to ensure salaries, elections, a stable government, European funding and economic recovery, and those who complain," the prime minister said.

Friday, 24 July 2020

PM Says Expects Ministers to Cooperate Closely for Tourist Season's Sake

ZAGREB, July 24, 2020 - The new, 15th cabinet held its first meeting on Friday, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic saying the main item on the agenda was a bill on the reconstruction of buildings damaged in the Zagreb area in the March earthquake.

"As we promised, the bill is on the agenda of the first government session after the election," he said.

Plenkovic said he expected Health Minister Vili Beros, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman and Tourism Minister Nikolina Brnjac "to cooperate closely in the days ahead so that we can conduct consultations to combine what we do with our ambition to achieve the best possible tourist season and communication with many other states which follow the epidemiological situation in all other states, including in Croatia."

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Plenkovic Says Many New MPs Quite Sensitive

ZAGREB, July 23, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Thursday it was not his fault that MPs received the new government's programme late, and that the new parliament included plenty of sensitive MPs who had yet to toughen up.

"I'm satisfied with what we presented as our programme," he told press during a break in a parliamentary debate on his new cabinet's programme.

"As for this argument that the programme wasn't sent 25 days earlier, it's always been so. After parliament yesterday adopted a law on fewer ministries, the material was sent to parliament. Whether it was delivered at 8 or 9 a.m., it's not on me as the prime minister-designate. They knew the programme. It doesn't contain any particular surprises in relation to the (election) campaign," Plenkovic said after MPs claimed they received the programme too late to be able to examine it.

He said that during the debate none of the new MPs made him lose his temper, but noted that plenty of the new ones were quite sensitive and that they appealed to the deputy speaker for protection.

Plenkovic was referring to MPs who accused him of interrupting Tomislav Tomasevic of the green-left coalition during his address and warned deputy speaker Zeljko Reiner that Plenkovic was in breach of standing orders.

"They'll toughen up," said Plenkovic.

He went on to say that the support of 76 MPs for his cabinet was enough and that he would not persuade or lobby to ensure a broader support.

He said government members would be stripped of immunity when it came to corruption-related offences and that this was an important political statement and a contribution to the fight against corruption.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Plenkovic: New Government to Meet Great Reform Expectations

ZAGREB, July 23, 2020 - Prime Minister-designate Andrej Plenkovic said on Thursday that he was aware that expectations of reform were now much higher than before and that his new government would meet them.

"There will be huge challenges to public health, the economy and finance. Today we have more political experience and that will certainly make our work easier. The government is homogenous, the parliamentary majority is compact, and I count on 76 hands," Plenkovic told reporters outside parliament before presenting his new cabinet to lawmakers.

Asked if he believed his new team would endure the four-year term, Plenkovic said: "I don't know, it's hard for me to say. You start out with this ambition, but in the present time of crisis, challenges and unpredictable circumstances it is difficult to say. I would like it to be that way. We endured this past term, maybe not in the original composition, but we did a good and useful job for Croatia and the citizens gave us their trust for the next term."

Asked to comment on claims by some analysts that the EU funding would be used for some particular interests, Plenkovic said: "22 billion is 22 billion. We have a great responsibility to use this money well and I think it is good to have such a lever after a GDP fall of 10 percent as a result of the crisis (caused by the coronavirus pandemic). It would be much more difficult without it."

Monday, 20 July 2020

Plenkovic: EU Leaders Are Close to Deal

ZAGREB, July 20, 2020 - EU member states are getting closer to a deal on the next seven-year budget and the coronavirus recovery plan, after three days of tough negotiations and numerous compromises, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters outside the government offices in Zagreb on Monday.

"After tough negotiations and numerous compromises, in my estimate, we are nevertheless slowly moving towards an agreement," Plenkovic said.

EU leaders have been unable to agree on the number of grants in the proposed plan for the economic recovery of the EU hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to diplomatic sources, five "frugal" countries led by the Netherlands are insisting on €350 million in grants and as much in loans. The other member states are against the amount of grants being reduced below €400 billion.

"Their initial logic was that everything should go through loans. The logic of the other 22 member states and the European Commission is that the Union exists to demonstrate solidarity as well," Plenkovic said.

The 27 member states continue negotiations in Brussels on Monday afternoon for the fourth day in a row.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Plenkovic: Idea of Recovery Package Should not Be Watered Down

ZAGREB, July 18, 2020 -  It would not be good to water down the idea of a strong and quick response to the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters before the continuation of the EU summit in Brussels on Saturday. 

EU leaders were meeting on Saturday in renewed efforts to reach an agreement on the next seven-year budget and the coronavirus recovery plan after negotiations hit a deadlock on Friday because the Netherlands insisted that payouts from the recovery fund should be decided unanimously.

Plenkovic said that the Dutch position was bad.

"The whole meaning of the idea of €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans was to provide a strong and quick response immediately in order to accelerate the economic recovery. If for some reason this is watered down, then it's not it anymore," the Croatian PM said.

He said he expected a new proposal from the European Council president and a new start to negotiations.

"I believe a majority of member states will make an effort to reach an agreement. I cannot say with certainty whether some countries will stay firm in their positions," Plenkovic said.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

PM Says Croatia's Goals During EU Presidency Achieved As Much As Possible

ZAGREB, July 1, 2020 - During its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2020, Croatia has shown leadership and secured the best possible results under the conditions unprecedented in history, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says in an interview for Hina.

Croatia took over the EU presidency only six and a half years after it was admitted to the bloc, however, the chairmanship could not unfold as planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected the usual functioning of EU institutions and the everyday life of the Europeans.

PM Plenkovic underscored that before it took the helm of the EU on 1 January, Croatia had worked in a committed manner on preparations for this duty, and the slogan of the Croatian presidency was "A strong Europe in a world of challenges".

However, no one could have foreseen so many challenges we have been facing in recent times, including the COVID pandemic, the premier said explaining that therefore the focus was shifted from the Croatian presidency agenda's priorities to the top priority: the safety and security of European citizens.

Furthermore, Zagreb was hit by a 5.5-strong earthquake on 22 March, he recalled adding that the most experienced and oldest EU member-states cannot remember that anybody's presidency had been conducted under such complex circumstances.

"Therefore commendations and recognition we are receiving from older members for a job well done are more than a matter of courtesy, they mean their sincere appreciation of our huge efforts we have invested and results we have achieved."

"Despite the unprecedented circumstances, we have achieved many goals we had set, and Croatia enjoys the status and reputation it never had before," Plenkovic said.

In mid-March, virtual meetings and video conferences started replacing physical meetings at the political level.

In these circumstances, our task was to coordinate a joint response to the crisis caused by COVID-19, Plenkovic said.

We can say that in a record short time the European Union managed to accomplish a lot of things. We can say that in many ways we have been a "digitised presidency". The first digital trialogue was held during the Croatian presidency and referred to the SMART-TEN-T topic, he added.

Until 13 March 2020, in Croatia 21 events and gatherings were held, bringing together experts and working groups, two events were within a parliamentary dimension plus 32 events under the auspices of the Croatian presidency. From March to the end of June, more than 70 video conferences were held, including discussions on the impact of the pandemic on the economy, public healthcare systems, borders, education, culture, employment, and mobility, he said.

The Council of the EU needed to act under extraordinary circumstances. Only COREPER continued to meet in a physical format, and I thank them for that, the Croatian premier said.

He commented on the full activation of integrated political crisis response (IPCR) arrangements during the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU to help the EU members to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

Croatia's greatest achievement its ability to act and meet its targets in most difficult circumstances

Asked about Croatia's greatest achievement during its presidency of the Council of the EU, Plenkovic said that "our greatest achievement is the fact that we continued to act and achieve our targets in the most difficult circumstances."

At the start of our presidency, we defined the Zagreb Summit and progress in the enlargement policy, preparations for launching the Conference on the Future of Europe, and orderly Brexit as our goals. In all three areas, we have met the targets he has set: thanks to the strong engagement and initiative from Croatia, the Council of the EU made a decision on opening the membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, despite strong opposition from some of the EU member states. Also, a new methodology for the accession negotiations has been confirmed, he said.

After several months of intensive talks with member-states and advocacy for the strongest possible mandate of the Council, the Croatian EU Presidency has reached agreement on the Council's position for inter-institutional talks on a joint statement based on which the Conference on the Future of Europe should be launched by the end of this year, the Croatian government reported earlier on Wednesday.

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