Sunday, 26 September 2021

Croatia Has Imported Thousands of Unskilled Single Men, Says Večernji List

ZAGREB, 26 Sept, 2021 - While Western countries are looking to attract highly skilled workers, Croatia has been importing unskilled labour, mostly single men who with their low wages cannot afford to live with their families, reads an article in the Večernji List daily edition of Sunday.

How many foreign workers should Croatia, being a small country, import to reach the average standard of living in the EU, so that all those who work today do not sink into poverty when they retire, says the daily.

What makes a state a state are its residents, with the standard of living being ensured by employed citizens and institutions that work for public welfare, while its future is ensured by its children and youth, says the daily.

In a period of only 30 years Croatia has lost close to one million residents, and according to demographers, today it has a population of only 3.85 million, with the share of citizens aged over 65 exceeding the share of children and young people under 19, which puts Croatia among the world's oldest nations.

With such a population structure, intensive emigration over the past eight years, and a brain-drain, Croatia cannot have stronger economic growth but has been keeping afloat with uncontrolled labour imports, hopeful that at least some of those who have emigrated will return so that all citizens could have a decent life, says the daily.

According to UN projections from 2015, Croatia's population was to have shrunk to 3.9 million only in 2030, but those projections have turned out to be optimistic, as the figure has been reached a decade earlier, the daily says.

Speaking at the recent conference "The Croatia We Need", Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said that raising the standard of living should be a goal for everyone and that between 100,000 and 150,000 new jobs would mean less worry and a much stronger and more sustainable growth with the help of which the average European standard of living would be achieved more easily.

But he did not say if he meant that the 100,000 to 150,000 workers should be imported or that some of the 119,000 domestic job-seekers should be activated as well, the daily says, noting that Croatia has 1.236 million pensioners and 1.604 million employed persons.

The government has not answered either if the minister was referring to labour imports and where those workers would be imported from, the daily says.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Inflation Should be Taken Very Seriously, Says Financial Minister

ZAGREB, 22 Sept, 2021 - Inflation should be taken very seriously because of the criteria for introducing the euro as well as living standards, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Croatian Radio on Wednesday.

Asked if inflation would threaten Croatia's entry into the eurozone, he said next year's budget deficit would again be within 3%, which would mean that the cost of COVID-19 of over HRK 35 billion would be almost totally a one-off.

The public debt-to-GDP ratio is again decreasing this year already, he added.

He said that inflation, one of the criteria for introducing the euro, had become a topic in recent months and that it must be a maximum 1.5% more or less than in the three member states with the lowest inflation.

Croatia's average inflation is somewhat below the EU average but Greece, Cyprus and Portugal still have very low inflation, which affects the formula for calculating the Maastricht criterion, he added.

But even with those three countries combined, he said, Croatia is still within the criteria for introducing the euro.

He said inflation was, first and foremost, affected by energy prices, oil in particular, and that this was reflected in food and construction material prices.

Speaking of fears of price rises after the introduction of the euro, Marić said that at least six months before it was announced that Croatia was entering the area, prices would have to be displayed in both kuna and euro for a year, perhaps longer.

Although the general VAT rate is not expected to be cut upon accession to the euro area, he did not rule out the possibility of cutting VAT on food.

Marić reiterated that Croatia would receive €25 billion from the EU budget in the next seven years, including €6.3 billion for its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, of which a 13% advance "is arriving in a matter of days."

Marić said he was surprised by the success of the tourism season, notably in July and August, but this month also as the amount of fiscalised receipts in tourism this month so far was up 24% from September 2019.

He announced a 2021 budget revision, alongside preparations for the 2022 budget, for mid-October.

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Monday, 13 September 2021

Switching to Euro Will Help Croatia Enjoy Better Credit Rating

ZAGREB, 13 Sept 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Monday that the introduction of the euro as the sole legal tender would impact Croatia's credit rating, and quoted the Fitch agency's presumption that the country's admission to the euro area would raise its credit rating by two notches.

Addressing a meeting of the National Council for the introduction of the Euro as Official Currency in Croatia, which was also attended by the EC Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, Minister Marić recalled that the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic triggered off a rise in the budget gap, and last year the general government deficit amounted to 7.4% of the country's GDP.

This year, it is estimated at 3.8%.

According to the latest estimates, the budget deficit in 2022 will fall to 2.6% of GDP and to 1.9% in 2023, while in 2024 it is projected to be 1.5% of GDP.

Marić recalled that as a consequence of the higher budget deficit, the public debt also rose in 2020 when it reached 88% of GDP.

This year, the public debt is likely to fall by two percentage points to 86.6%, and in 2022, it is expected to be reduced by a further three percentage points.

Marić expects the public debt to be 76.8% of GDP at the end of 2024.

He announced a shift of the focus to inflation, noting that inflation trends were now present worldwide.

Croatian National Bank (HNB) Governor, Boris Vujčić, said that Croatia's admission to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) II had brought the country under the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and it also joined the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM).

Concerning the HNB, we are already in the bank union to a large extent. Our experience from participation in the SSM and SRM is good, we have adjusted ourselves to that, Vujčić said.

Commenting on fears of higher prices being triggered off by the euro changeover, the governor pledged the protection of consumers and good communication.

"We are preparing the code of ethics which will be offered to businesses and services to sign, whereby they undertake fair performance during the euro changeover, he explained.

We will introduce monitoring and we will use the best practices of countries that have already converted their national currencies to the euro, he said.

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Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Financial Minister Zdravko Marić: Overdraft Solution in Days or Weeks Ahead

ZAGREB, 8 Sept, 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Wednesday a solution to current account overdrafts was expected in the days or weeks ahead and that it remained to be seen if the law would need to be amended.

He was speaking to the press after Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's meeting with representatives of banks' management boards, which was also attended by central bank (HNB) governor Boris Vujčić and Economy Minister Tomislav Ćorić.

Marić said the purpose of the meeting was to exchange information and views on current account overdrafts with a view to finding an adequate and satisfactory solution in which, he added, the government emphasised consumer protection.

He said several good proposals crystallised at the meeting, aimed at protecting social sensitivity, fairness, information and transparency as well as at reaching a solution under which authorised overdrafts would again dominate, as they are regulated by law in much more detail, much more clearly and transparently than tacit overdrafts.

The 2010 Consumer Credit Act recognises authorised and tacit overdrafts, but since 2018 the latter have become prevalent, accounting for almost 95% of all overdrafts, Marić said. Tacit overdrafts have been approved for almost 1.8 million consumers and are being exercised by 840,000.

That happened because under a central bank decision from the end of 2017, pursuant to European regulations, the calculation of the effective interest rate includes the fee for having a current account. As a result, authorised overdrafts became less available to lower income citizens and banks switched to tacit overdrafts.

Marić said a solution should be prompt but not rushed and to the benefit of all consumers. He told people living with tacit overdrafts that the government did not intend to nor would support a solution that would result in a drastic cancellation of overdrafts because that would put additional pressure on their everyday lives and livelihoods. "We'll dispel all fears that this instrument will be annulled and disappear."

A solution may be found by changing the decision within the central bank's remit, but if necessary, the law will be adjusted, he said, adding that if the former option was chosen, that would be known in the next few days, and in case of the latter, in the next few weeks. "We are really not talking about months."

The minister said it was necessary to continue to work on people's financial literacy as well as on product transparency.

Vujčić: The goal is that lowest income citizens don't lose current account overdraft option

The central bank governor said that since Croatia was the only country limiting effective interest rate on overdrafts, the inclusion of the current account fee in the rate as of 2018 resulted in the fee "swallowing" interest, primarily on small overdrafts.

He said that, for example, no interest was paid on overdrafts up to HRK 2,000 and a current account fee of HRK 12.

"We have several different regulations which produce such results and that should be put in order, so that for those with the lowest incomes, and consequently overdrafts, those products don't become unprofitable for banks and they start cancelling them."

Vujčić said the point was to return tacit overdrafts under the same regulations that applied to authorised overdrafts, without a certain number of people with the lowest incomes losing the overdraft option in the process.

"That's the point and that's what we'll do," he said, adding that it remained to be agreed on how to do it.

Croatian Banking Association (HUB) director Zdenko Adrović said that representatives of the banking sector spoke at the meeting about practices in other European countries, expressing hope that the new solution would be in line with those practices.

He stressed that there was no cap on the effective interest rate in other countries, so one of the proposals presented was for the cap on the effective interest rate to be removed and a cap on the nominal interest rate to be possibly introduced.

Adrović said that one of the proposals was for costs related to current account overdrafts to be calculated at "a slightly higher minimum amount", but noted that this was a technical solution that still had to be discussed with the HNB.

Asked by reporters how citizens would now be able to trust banks after they had switched their authorised overdrafts to tacit ones, Adrović claimed that everything was done in line with the law and that authorised and tacit overdrafts were two equal products.

He said that he "assumed" that a "vast majority" of citizens had been informed by their banks about tacit overdrafts, but that a large number of citizens, including himself, "relatively rarely" read notices about possible changes.

Marić: No reduction of VAT on food in 2022

Asked is VAT, including on food, would be lowered considering current price hikes, Finance Minister Marić said that the government had already reduced the VAT rate on some food products, including fresh meat and fish, and fruit and vegetables, and that it planned to reduce VAT on all food products during the current term in office.

But that will happen only after the necessary conditions are met, he stressed, noting that currently and in 2022 there was no fiscal room for such a move.

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

Thursday, 2 September 2021

FinMin Says GDP Could Grow By 7% This Year

ZAGREB, 2 Sept 2021 - The latest macroeconomic trends indicate the upward revision of forecasts of the growth for this year and we now can expect a 7% rise on the year, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Thursday.

He recalled that the government's current forecast is five percent.

Marić said that tax revenue from 1 January to 31 August was 0.7% higher than fin the corresponding period last year while VAT was over four percent more year on year.

YTD profit tax is a little lower as against the same period last year, but that was to be expected given that that is calculated based on the results in 2020. Contributions for pension insurance were 4% higher and that is on track with what we expected, he said.

The only levy that is mildly staggering is for automobiles which he explained by the reduction in some levies and global stagnation in the automobile industry.

As far as budget revenue is concerned, in August alone the value of fiscalised receipts was almost 21% higher than they were in August 2020.

He underscored a key role of the expenditure side for the sustainability of public finances.

Asked by the press about possible inflation in autumn particularly regarding food prices, Marić said that the latest data calls for caution.

According to the latest information from the national statistical office (DZS), inflation in July amounted to 2.8% on the year, the highest rate since April 2013. Consumer prices are fuelled by industrial producer prices which in July rose by 7.9% on the year, the biggest jump since April 2011.

Marić said that inflation was to be expected given monetary concessions on the global level and the amount of money released in the system which resulted in a drop in its price which then impacted inflation pressure.

He added that he isn't sure that the price hike on food and construction material can be entirely attributed to global trends and disruptions in the supply chain.

He warned there are very few prices that can be regulated as they are mostly regulated by the market and that market development and competitiveness are a must.

He recalled that when VAT was reduced on eggs, fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, tax policies had a limited impact because even after VAT was reduced the price of these products did not decrease significantly.

He mentioned the recurring rise in the debt by hospitals and that payment deadlines are now about 180 days for hospitals, 200 days for pharmacies and that the health insurance fund had transferred about HRK 5.9 billion to settle liabilities.

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Friday, 27 August 2021

FinMin Pleased with State of Budget

ZAGREB, 27 Aug 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said on Friday that he could be pleased with the state of the budget and that it was in line with expectations, with some tax revenues exceeding them, such as VAT, which outperforms its 2019 level since the beginning of the year.

As the level of employment has been preserved, and even increased, Marić is also pleased with the amount of paid contributions for pension insurance.

He underscored again that the key to the sustainability of public finance lay on state budget expenditures, on which great emphasis was placed.

Asked by the press whether the government had a clear reform plan on the table, for instance, for health care, which is a great burden on the budget, the finance minister recalled the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NPOO) had been adopted and it listed reforms in various segments.

The health care reform, Marić said, should go beyond what is written in the NPOO, because that is a more comprehensive process which everyone knows is needed, Health Minister Vili Beroš is working on it, and the entire package of measures should be presented to the public by the end of the year.

Asked about job-retention grants for entrepreneurs, Marić recalled there were conditions for those grants, such as a drop in revenue, so those grants were not crucial for a significant part of businesses. However, he added that one always had to be braced for any negative surprises.

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Monday, 16 August 2021

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric Refers to August Tourism Numbers as Strong

August the 16th, 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Maric has referred to the current quite remarkable numbers we're seeing coming from the Croatian tourism sector as strong. Few expected a summer season as successful as this one so far.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Maric stated that the first twelve days of August, Croatia has recorded 10 billion kuna worth of fiscalised receipts/bills, which is 12.5 percent more than in the same period in pre-pandemic, record 2019.

''Since the beginning of the year, we're 1.3 percent better than we were even back in 2019. Let's carry on and do everything we can to continue these trends. We need to focus more on the cost side of the budget, because revenues, obviously, aren't going to fail. The key to our success in the long-term sustainability of public finances lies in expenditures,'' Finance Minister Zdravko Maric told Jutarnji list.

The Croatian tourist season, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, is unexpectedly good and is somehow breaking the records even from 2019. According to the Tax Administration, the increase in the total amount of fiscal bills and receipts issued in the first week of August seems to be due to rising prices, especially in the provision of accommodation and food services.

In the first statistical week of August, the number of receipts issued decreased by 13 percent compared to the same week of the record year 2019, but the total amount of fiscal receipts increased by 23 percent. A slightly lower decrease in the number of fiscal receipts issued compared to the first week of August 2021 and 2019 was also observed when they were issued for all activities - this decrease currently stands at just 4 percent.

“Of the activities within the fiscal system, we're mostly monitoring retail trade and tourism. Compared to 2019, trade is 6 to 8 percent better, depending on whether we look at trade in total or just retail, and total tourism is currently in the red by 21.5 percent. That said, in July, tourism was 5 percent better than it was back in July 2019, and in the first 12 days of August, it's as much as 20.4 percent better. Of course, it would be more correct to wait until the end of the month and compare ''the same with the same'', but these are also very strong figures for August,'' concluded Finance Minister Zdravko Maric.

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Friday, 30 July 2021

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric Planning to Slash VAT on Food

July the 30th, 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Maric has announced that he does indeed intend to slash VAT on food during a recent guest appearance on RTL Danas (Today).

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, before we take to the subject at hand, it's worth noting that Finance Minister Zdravko Maric did not accept the proposals of the National Association of Caterers on lowering VAT on beverages and respecting labour costs as a tax deduction. Let's look at precisely why didn't he satisfy this association's wishes.

"We always end up talking about VAT somehow..." stated Maric.

"It's not just a question of satisfying or not satisfying people's desires. I mean, we always end up talking about VAT whatever the topic is. I do emphasise all the time for the hospitality sector, as well as for all other activities, this government in the past and this term, despite the pandemic, has conducted several rounds of tax relief to stimulate activities, employment, the raising of wages… Of course, in the wake of all this we're continuing to work hard, and caterers always come up with this suggestion that the only exclusive variable is VAT. One of the interlocutors in this regard was the co-owner of a restaurant. Let's just sit down and demystify a few things now. So... complete accommodation in tourism, complete food and service is already at a reduced rate. We're only talking about bars here,'' Maric said.

What would those numbers look like?

"We're talking about approximately half a billion kuna. Now, looking at the data we have from the past year, it's certain that the pandemic had a significant share in the hospitality sector, however, you know that the hospitality sector has been recognised with our measures since day one. At a time when it was horizontal for all sectors, and to this day the hospitality industry is one of the few that is the recipient of measures to preserve jobs and cover fixed costs.''

There has been a lot of talk about VAT in the last term of this government as well, it was promised that the general VAT rate would be reduced. In the end, that didn't happen. Is it a topic at all anymore?

"It isn't in the government's programme at the moment. Let me remind you, there was a reduction in the income tax rate, especially for young people, you know that it all came into force and that it has already been done. Young people can testify to that, I'd also say that they were pleasantly surprised with those tax refunds. What follows, when the conditions for that are created, is written in the government's programme that the reduction of VAT will be applied to all food in general, but we'l see when and how we'll implement it,'' stated Finance Minister Zdravko Maric.

Next came the topic of the pandemic-dominated season, and we're not just talking about tourism here. Maric was asked if he was worried about the epidemiological situation and the possible sudden end of the tourist season, to which he responded:

"I think we really do all need to contribute individually to prevent that from happening. We aren't talking only about tourism here but also all other economic activities. The third quarter is generally the strongest in terms of economic activity. Very soon our children will return to school. We really have a lot of segments that we have to take care of in order to finally gain this victory over the virus and to be able to live normally again,'' Finance Minister Zdravko Maric replied.

The European Commission has now officially adopted Croatia's National Recovery and Resilience Plan. What's the next phase? When do the first funds arrive and what will they be used for?

"At the end of August, the government will authorise the signing of a financial agreement with the EU. After that, I expect a 13 percent advance in September of somewhere around 820 million euros. By the end of the year, Croatia must meet the 34 criteria it listed in the document, which is the basis for withdrawing an additional 700 million euros in the first half of next year. By the end of 2022, we need to meet the requirements that will ensure the withdrawal of 46 percent of the total envelope of money, which is very good news because it means that at the beginning of this period, we'll be able to use the most funds,'' concluded Finance Minister Zdravko Maric.

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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Tax Relief Proposals by Hospitality Sector Reps not Accepted

ZAGREB, 27 July, 2021 - Finance Minister Zdravko Marić on Tuesday did not accept proposals for a lower VAT rate on beverages and to treat labour costs as a tax deduction, while a representative of restaurant and bar owners said they would have to fend for themselves the best way they can regarding future challenges.

"My message to all restaurant and bar owners in the country, notably those who run bars, is that a very demanding period is ahead of us and that they will have to seek new loans and funding, despite the fact that we had yet another constructive meeting with the finance minister today. We can hope that in a couple of years we will have better working conditions because now that is not the case and we have not come across any understanding in regard to our proposals," Jelena Tabak, who heads the NUU association of restaurateurs, said after the meeting.

Marić recalled that a lower VAT rate was already in place in the tourism sector for accommodation, food and for the serving of food and that beverages were the only products for which VAT had not been reduced.

Commenting on the proposal to exclude labour costs from the base amount for the calculation of the VAT rate in the hospitality sector, the minister said that neither Croatia's nor the EU's tax systems recognised such a measure.

"In terms of taxation, labour costs are indeed recognised costs but in systems in which they should be recognised - the income and profit tax systems. We cannot mix direct taxes with indirect taxes such as VAT," he explained.

Marić recalled the government's measures to help the business sector, from lower taxes to the cancellation of individual contributions, as well as expanding the scope of nontaxable income, which, he said, had resulted in a rise in employment and wages, as evidenced by statistical data.

He recalled the government's job-keeping measures and coverage of fixed costs in the hospitality sector, stressing that data on fiscalisation showed that the hospitality sector had solid results and that the real peak of the tourist season was yet to come.

Dražen Biljan of the bar owners' association of the NUU Zagreb branch said that they were not happy that their proposals were not accepted and that lowering VAT on drinks would not cost the state too much, around HRK 400 million. It would, however, mean a lot for restaurant and bar owners, he said.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Finance Minister Zdravko Marić Says Croatia in Safe Financial Zone

ZAGREB, 2 June, 2021 - The budget revision, proposed by the government today, keeps Croatia in a safe financial zone, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said after the cabinet's meeting on Wednesday.

The proposed budget changes set the general government deficit at 3.8% of GDP, and the government believes that this increase still keeps Croatia in a safe zone in terms of economic and other activities as well as in terms of the opinion of credit rating agencies and the European Commission, he added.

The government is committed to reducing the public debt from 88.7% to 86.6% of GDP, this year, Marić said, announcing one more revision of this year's budget.

The proposed revision, adopted today, will probably be on the government's agenda next week.

The minister said that he was looking forward to a meeting with Zagreb's new mayor Tomislav Tomašević, and that he and his team would be at the disposal of the newly elected local authorities.

"As far as Zagreb is concerned, I am sure that the mayor and I will meet to discuss several things," he said, explaining that with regard to additional borrowing, laws were clear and applied equally to everybody.

Among the topics to be discussed with Tomašević is a limit on borrowing, he said in a comment on the topic of possible new borrowing, explaining that the amount needed to service debts and cover loan guarantees this year must not exceed 20% of last year's revenue.

With regard to the purchase of fighter jets for the army, Marić said that the government would be guided by pragmatic criteria only. Therefore, a certain amount could be paid as an advance this year, he added.

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