Friday, 11 February 2022

Parliament Asks Gov't to Verify Signatures for Anti-COVID Referendum

ZAGREB, 11 Feb 2022 - Parliament on Friday asked the government to verify the number and authenticity of the signatures collected for the Bridge party's referendum petitions to abolish COVID certificates and the crisis management team, and to include at least two representatives of each petition in the process.

The government was also asked to check if all the signatures were collected in line with the Referendum Act.

Parliament passed the relevant conclusions, proposed by the Committee on the Constitution, with 77 votes, while 32 MPs were against and 13 abstained.

Before the vote, parliament rejected amendments by Bridge and the Social Democratic Party to ask the State Electoral Commission, rather than the government, to verify the signatures in 30 days and the SDP proposal to establish a parliamentary task force, comprising three members from the opposition and four from the majority, to supervise the count.

Speaker Gordan Jandroković said recently he could not say how much the verification would take and that once the signatures had been counted, the process was back in parliament's hands.

If it is established that Bridge collected enough signatures, parliament can either call a referendum or ask the Constitutional Court to assess the referendum questions.

Bridge delivered the signatures to parliament on 24 January, saying they had collected 410,533 for the petition against COVID certificates and 409,219 against the national COVID crisis management team, more than the 368,867 required (10% of eligible voters) for a referendum to be called.

Bridge calls out majority for not allowing State Electoral Commission to count votes

Before today's vote, MP Marin Miletić of Bridge called out the ruling majority for not allowing the State Electoral Commission to count votes because "everyone would be sure in that case."

He appealed to the majority's conscience during the vote, telling them not to be afraid of citizens and to allow the referendum.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 11 February 2022

MP Deplores Rejection of Criminal Report for Wartime Murder of 4-Year-Old Girl

ZAGREB, 11 Feb 2022 - Željko Sačić of the Croatian Sovereignists party (HS) said on Friday the State Attorney General and the justice minister should demand an explanation of the decision of the Osijek County State Attorney's Office to scrap a criminal report against the murderers of a small girl in Borovo Selo in 1992.

The county office has dismissed the criminal report filed by an association of war veterans against the perpetrators of the March 1992 war crime in Borovo Selo where four-year-old Martina Štefančić and her grandmother were killed and her uncle was seriously wounded when there were no war operations there.

Sačić told the parliament that the explanation sent to the association read that of the seven perpetrators, some were amnestied and five were outside Croatia, and that the testimonies of the witnesses, who were 12 and 14 when the crime happened, could not be treated as credible.

Therefore, the HS party insists that State Attorney General Zlata Hrvoj Šipek and minister Ivan Malenica must demand an explanation in greater detail.

He said that this party would request convening the parliamentary committees on war veterans and on national security to discuss this matter.

Željko Štefančić, whose niece and mother were the victims killed during the occupation of the village, told Vukovar County Court in 2004 while testifying at a war crimes trial of eight former Serb paramilitaries, that one evening somebody had opened fire at his house and that he had been wounded. The witness did not see who or how many people entered his house. His mother and niece were taken to another room, where they were killed, according to his testimony.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

MPs Support Bill on Coastal Maritime Transport

ZAGREB, 26 Jan 2022 - MPs, both of the ruling majority and of the opposition, on Wednesday supported the final bill on regular and occasional coastal maritime transport, underscoring the importance of transport links between islands and the mainland for improving living conditions and economic development.

Presenting the draft bill in the parliament, the State Secretary at the Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, Josip Bilaver, said that the aim of the law was to permanently connect islands with the mainland, and inhabited islands with one another, as well as to increase the existing and introduce new routes for better mobility, faster transport, balanced development of counties and better living conditions on islands.

He said that the new law, among other things, regulated the issue of privilege and free transport and provided free transport for firefighters and their vehicles, including professional firefighters and members of volunteer fire departments.

"I believe that the law will contribute to more frequent lines and a better service, especially for islanders," Bilaver said.

Marijana Puljak announced that she would support the bill on behalf of the parliamentary group of the Centre and GLAS parties, saying that transport was of vital importance for the inhabitants for economic development, improving living conditions and work on islands.

Marina Opačak Bilić (Social Democrats Group) agreed with that, stressing that without good connectivity, which had to exist throughout the year, island populations would decline. She also asked whether the inhabitants of Pelješac would lose their existing boat lines due to the construction of the bridge.

Urša Raukar Gamulin (Green-Left Bloc) thinks the law may be even more important to island inhabitants than the Islands Act because, she said, it is crucial to prevent people from leaving and facilitating island life.

Noting that the law was another step forward in better island transport connectivity, Branko Bačić (HDZ) said that there were 51 state lines (ferry, boat and fast boat lines) and that maritime transport involved about 14 million passengers and 3.5 million vehicles.

He also said that the state allocated about HRK 315 million per year for maritime transport from the budget.

Recalling that the national passenger shipping company Jadrolinija this year celebrated its 70th anniversary, Bačić said that it had taken a big step forward over the past 15 years in the procurement of better and faster ships and fleet rejuvenation. Also, in addition to Jadrolinija, private shipowners have turned to fast boat transport and the purchase of catamarans, which has led to even better island connectivity, he said.

Bačić said that although it was getting a bridge, Pelješac should stay an island because if Pag, Krk, Murter and Čiovo were islands, he saw no reason why Pelješac wouldn't be one.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Parliament Speaker's Office Receives 1,000 Complaints in Past 4 Years

ZAGREB, 26 Jan 2022 - The office of the Parliament Speaker has received more than a thousand letters or petitions from citizens and office staff read each one individually and depending on their content, act accordingly.

"Admittedly, some letters do not require any action because they might just be a comment but we react by reading each one," the Parliament Speaker's office told Hina on Wednesday.

The statistics, however, indicate that in 2018 there were 403 petitions, in 2019 there were 293, in 2020 there were 247, and last year 176.

We assume the number decreased due to the coronavirus pandemic, the office said.

Citizens complain about various matters, mostly about the conduct of state and local government, health, welfare, judiciary, and many are not informed of the competencies of certain state institutions so they write to the Sabor.

In any case, the correspondence is forwarded to the competent bodies and we ask that they reply to the sender.

The office added that they also have some people who write regularly and not only to the Sabor but other institutions too.

Parliament  Speaker Gordan Jandroković confirmed on Tuesday that the Sabor receives petitions from citizens and added that he had investigated claims about an acquaintance of his concerning the state property rented to that acquaintance. Jandrokoivć added that he did not overstep his duties because he personally reacted to a complaint by a citizen which is something his office receives every day.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Opposition Strongly Criticises Social Welfare Reform Bills

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - The parliamentary opposition on Thursday strongly criticized a reformed set of social welfare bills, saying that the opinions of professionals have not been taken into account, that the system is being unnecessarily centralized, and that there might be long-term negative consequences.

Despite some improvements, the reform is going in the wrong direction and might have far-reaching negative consequences, and it is also contrary to everything professionals have said, Davorko Vidović of the Social Democrats' parliamentary club said in a debate on seven social welfare reform bills.

Anka Mrak Taritaš of GLAS said the aim of the bills should be making life easier for beneficiaries but that these bills were about form, not content.

Sandra Benčić of the Green-Left Bloc said two World Bank loans were taken out since 2003 for decentralizing services and reforming the social welfare system and that tens of millions of euros were absorbed from the EU for the same purpose.

What have been the effects of that and why is the course being drastically changed, she asked.

The ruling majority commended the reform, saying that it will result in a more efficient and more transparent system in the service of its beneficiaries.

The centralization refers only to administrative and legal affairs, Nada Murganić of the HDZ said, adding that the reform is timely as it envisages raising almost all allowances.

The guaranteed minimum allowance and the disability allowance are being raised while means' tests and other tests for persons with disabilities are being rescinded, said her colleague Vesna Bedaković.

Presenting the bills, Social Welfare Minister Josip Aladrović said the goal was to enhance the system's organization and coordination, strengthen social welfare centers, increase the availability of services, standardize action, and increase allowances.

"This set of bills is just the first step in improving the system in the long term," he added.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Opposition Criticises Report on European Council Meetings in 2021

ZAGREB, 20 Jan 2022 - Opposition MPs on Wednesday criticized a report on European Council meetings in 2021, warning about population problems, the poor status of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, higher energy prices, and inflation, while the majority said Croatia's interests were defended well at those meetings.

The report was presented by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

Nino Raspudić (Bridge) said the Council of the EU rejected Croatia's amendments on legitimate political representation and the equality of three constituent peoples in BiH through an electoral reform ahead of a vote due in October.

He said that instead of Croatia blocking those conclusions in line with its national interest, the Plenković cabinet "coldly betrayed Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Croatian interest overall."

Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said the Council of the EU conclusions were the incumbent government's biggest success. "If anyone has done something for Croats in BiH, then it's Plenković and all of us who were there with him."

Social Democratic Party president Peđa Grbin said that last year the European Council called on the member states and the Commission to help the most vulnerable citizens and companies, to design medium and long-term measures to cut energy prices, and to cut taxes.

"Croatia has done none of that. The only measure was that freezing of fuel prices," he said, adding that Croatia could do a lot to help citizens and businesses.

Grbin said that at the European Council Croatia joined France and some other member states in pushing for nuclear energy, asking why Croatia was not joining countries that pushed for alternative sources. In the long term, he said, Croatia must deal with energy sources and achieving the biggest autonomy possible on that front.

Grbin said the SDP was for Croatia's entering Schengen and for using money from the EU Solidarity Fund for post-earthquake reconstruction.

He called on the government to give an estimate, based on the current inflation, of what awaits Croatia with the introduction of the euro and of how to alleviate the inflation blow to citizens.

Bojan Glavašević (Green-Left Bloc) said Croatia received a lot of money from the EU because it was undeveloped and poor, not because of the prime minister's efforts.

He said the results of Croatia's efforts regarding EU enlargement were such that North Macedonia continued to have a shameful blockade of its accession negotiations, Serbia was adopting laws that were the opposite of the EU acquis and values, and Montenegro was going backward.

The EU has no understanding for BiH and the Croats there nor a big interest in the Croatian government's positions in that regard, Glavašević added.

Marko Pavić of the ruling HDZ said that while Bridge wanted to isolate Croatia in the EU and the Sovereignists were against the euro, even though a majority of citizens were for, the HDZ was pushing for modern sovereignism and not isolating Croatia in the European Council.

He said the government and Plenković knew how to defend Croatia's interests, as evidenced in their ensuring €25 billion from European funds for the country's development over the next ten years.

Croatia came out of the recent crisis in just 18 months, and not in ten years as it took after the 2008 crisis, Pavić said, adding that despite the recent crisis, Croatia's credit rating was upgraded and it had a successful tourist season.

He wondered why Grbin was afraid of nuclear energy and why Croatia, as a co-owner of the Krško nuclear plant, should not be part of the initiative to have nuclear energy recognized as green energy.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Grmoja: Bridge Has Collected Enough Signatures for its Anti-COVID Referendum Petition

ZAGREB, 20 Dec 2021 - Nikola Grmoja of the Bridge party said on Sunday they had collected a sufficient number of signatures for their referendum petitions for the transfer of the powers of the national COVID-19 crisis management team to the parliament and the abolishment of COVID certificates.

This opposition party started collecting signatures on 4  December at over 1,200 venues across Croatia, and the two-week deadline for the initiative expired at midnight on 18 December.

For a referendum campaign to be successful, its organizers must collect the signatures of 10% of the electorate or 368,446 signatures.

Grmoja, however, stopped short of specifying the number of collected signatures, and in his statement to Hina on Sunday evening, he said that they were still gathering data and information from the ground and from local teams that had collected signatures in the last 14 days.

The results of the referendum campaign of this Opposition party are expected to be known on Wednesday.

On Saturday, the last day of the campaign, Grmoja said that data on the turnout from all signature-collecting points should be known by Wednesday, claiming that in the last two days of the campaign, on Friday and Saturday, the turnout was excellent.

Last Wednesday, he told a news conference that they had collected around 300,000 signatures, and in a bid to encourage as many people as possible to sign the petition, senior Bridge members joined the party activists on the ground collecting signatures.

In the event that the referendum petition had been supported by the required number of signatures, the questions proposed for the referendum could be also tested by the Constitutional Court.

President Milanović on the referendum

On 6 December, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said that he wouldn't sign the Bridge party's referendum petition for the abolition of COVID certificates because he thought he "isn't here to root for anyone", and he told the government and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party that they had brought this on themselves.

"I have said I will not sign it, but what I'm saying carries at least as much weight as some signature. I believe the government and the HDZ are responsible for signatures being collected now for amending the Constitution so that what is clear to everyone, except to the HDZ and Plenković, could become clear to them as well," said Milanović.

Commenting on the referendum on that occasion, Milanović said it consisted of two parts, the first of which was a matter of constitutionality with regard to Article 17, or cases when it is decided on a temporary suspension of fundamental human rights and freedoms. According to him, the first part of the referendum will depend on whether enough signatures are collected, and if there are enough of them, then the referendum will likely succeed because those in favor of the crisis management team running Croatia, and they're about 25% of them, he says, will simply not cast their vote or their number will be insufficient.

"I think the second part of the referendum, which deals with legislative changes, is not very well though-out and... the Constitutional Court may not allow those referendum questions," he said then.

Four opposition groups say they never supported Bridge's referendum initiative

Last Thursday, MPs from the Green-Left Bloc, Centre/GLAS, Peasant Party /Workers' Front, and Istrian Democratic Party groups strongly denied the statement by the Bridge's Vice President Grmoja that he had received guarantees from all opposition parties that they would support Bridge's referendum petition.

"That statement is a complete lie," says a joint statement signed by the leaders of the four opposition groups, stressing that these parties "neither participated in the meeting on the referendum initiative nor pledged their support in any way."

"It is unclear why MP Grmoja told such lies. ... Some members of our groups have warned Bridge MPs several times that the referendum initiative will further divide citizens, mobilize anti-vax sentiment, help spread fake news and conspiracy theories, and potentially contribute to the escalation of violence among citizens," the joint statement said.

The statement was released the day after in the national parliament Bridge deputies entered into a conflict with Opposition lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and other center-left groups on the topic of vaccination against coronavirus.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more on COVID-19, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

Parl. Speaker: Pandemic's Darkness Affects a Part of Political Scene

ZAGREB, 12 Dec 2021 - Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Sunday participated in a ceremony of the delivery of Bethlehem Light of Peace to the Cathedral of Zagreb, and on that occasion said that the times were not easy and that the pandemic's darkness affected the society, including a part of the political scene.

Let this Light enlighten many souls, Jandroković said.

The Bethlehem Light of Peace is a symbol of Christmas and in the Bible, it symbolizes the coming of Jesus, whose birth promised peace to all people of goodwill.

In his address to the press, the Sabor Speaker called for vaccination and for compliance with all anti-epidemic rules and for responsible and rational behavior.

"One should take care of the lives and health of other people."

Asked by the press whether the Constitutional Court will be asked to test the constitutionality of the questions of the Bridge party's ongoing referendum initiative against COVID certificates before the necessary signatures were collected or after that, Jandroković said: "We live in a democracy, everybody can do everything that is allowed by law. However, I appeal to common sense, conscience, and to the awareness that not every topic promoted in that way could be beneficial to people. Quite contrary."

We have many people who have got sick and many who have died of the disease, and it should not have happened. Inoculation, adhering to epidemiological measures and prudence are the way to reduce coronavirus numbers, he said, underscoring that it is crucial to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Asked by the press about the indictment against former minister Lovro Kuščević and reports on a preliminary investigation against former minister Tomislav Tolušić over alleged white-collar crimes, the parliament speaker said that it was inappropriate for politicians to comment on prosecutions, although it seemed that there was a widespread belief that politicians must take stand on each topic.

In a democracy there is the separation of powers, everybody is responsible for their job and prosecutorial authorities are expected to explain to the public things unclear from their remit, said Jandroković, adding that keeping making comments on investigations can amount to pressure on the judiciary.

 For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Sabor Supports Scheme of Incentives for Adult Education

ZAGREB, 10 Dec 2021 - Lawmakers on Friday supported the better regulation of  adult education and life-long learning, expressing hope that new act under which vouchers to finance adult education and training will be introduced, will encourage adult education and retraining.

The 2030 target is to reach the EU average of 10.8% adult population covered by education, while Croatia's average is now 3.5% Science and Education Ministry's State Secretary, Tomislav Paljak told the parliament.

The bill has been proposed so that every adult citizen in the country can have access to education and retraining that will provide them with a better position on the labour market and consequently better social status, underscored Paljak.

One of the novelties in the bill is the introduction of vouchers to finance adult education and HRK 300 million has been earmarked for this scheme that will encompass about 30,000 beneficiaries by 2026. The vouchers can be used for all education levels of both employed and unemployed people, he explained.

Independent MP Marijana Petir asked if the measure would be available for residents in rural areas, with Paljak saying that that would be a difficult challenge but he believes, once the campaign starts it will reach everyone.

Dragana Jeckov (SDSS) said that there are about 600 institutions providing adult education with about 11,000 different programmes but they are obviously not achieving their set objectives. The labour market is yearning for certain occupations yet at the same time we have a lot of unemployed people.

The bill also regulates the obligation for permanent adaptation of adult education programmes in order to address the needs of the labour market and to monitor the quality of implementing programmes.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Lawmakers Engaged in Heated Debate Over COVID Certificates

ZAGREB, 10 Dec 2021 - Members of the Croatian parliament on Thursday started a heated debate on a bill on the protection of the population against infectious diseases which envisages fines up to HRK 50,000 for responsible persons not complying with the COVID-19 certificate mandate in bodies governed by public law.

COVID certificates are unconstitutional and unlawful and they are not an effective measure and it has been proved that only testing can protect the population, said Miro Bulj of the Opposition Bridge party.

He said that the amendments to the law would usher in "unconstitutional lockdown and abuse with COVID certificates."

Josip Borić of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) responded that the Bridge party in fact, "is the only one that wishes to lock down citizens within Croatia if COVID certificates were to be abolished."

"You cannot travel to any other country without a COVID certificate," Borić explained.

Branko Bačić (HDZ) underscored that questioning COVID certificates resembles something that would be debated in the Middle Ages rather than the 21st century.

He supported the introduction of certificates with the argument that of 570,000 tests, which have been conducted since the COVID certificate mandate for the public sector, 8,515 were positive.

Had those 8,515 persons entered the system, that would have led to the infection of about 50,000 people and about 100 would have died, claimed Bačić and recalled that all democratic countries have introduced the certificates.

Opposition MPs pointed out a series of illogical, inconsistent, and vague measures adopted in the attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

People are tested prior to entering Slovenia and when they get to the border with Austria they get a positive result which makes the certificate redundant, Dario Zurovec of the Fokus party said and underscored that any restriction of movements is contrary to the Constitution and EU legal acquis.

Hrvoje Zekanović of the Croatian Sovereignists (HS) explained that one can enter a building housing a post office without a certificate but have to produce it when they arrive at the counter. If you can enter a shop without a certificate then that should be valid for a post office too. He wondered who would cover the cost of losses post offices might suffer due to the mandatory certificates.

Decisions should be brought by a two-thirds majority

The opposition called for decisions to be adopted with a two-thirds majority in the Sabor.

Andreja Marić of the Social Democratic Party (SDP)  called for complying with the advice and recommendations made by experts and doctors and for vaccination, however, she wondered whether COVID certificates perhaps are a restriction on human rights and freedom because some institutions do not require certificates yet others do.

Anka Mrak Taritaš of the GLAS party said that the discussion should be focused on the life and death of citizens rather than on COVID certificates.

During the 1991-1995 Homeland War, an estimated 15,000 citizens were killed, and the COVID-19 pandemic has taken 11,500 lives in Croatia so far, she underscored.

Let those under the influence drive too!

Katarina Peović of the Workers' Front (RF) said that Croatia has the most liberal anti-epidemic measures in Europe and responded in an ironic manner to those who argue that vaccinated people can also spread the virus, that she would appeal to let people under the influence to drive, "because those who aren't under the influence can also cause accidents."

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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