Friday, 29 July 2022

Milanović Says Did Not Insult Roma

ZAGREB, 29 July 2022 - President Zoran Milanović on Friday dismissed the statement by MP Veljko Kajtazi that in his criticism of the government's energy conservation plan he insulted the Roma community.

Milanović said he had no ill intentions and would not apologize because he did not offend anyone.

"Did I say that Roma were thieves? Did I spread prejudice and stereotypes? It is well known who steals in this country and who steals metal. Did I say that Roma were stealing. What was I supposed to say, that Roma have a PhD? I myself do not. Enough of this affectation and apologising. Where is the end to all this apologising for this and that, for Jasenovac, for Srebrenica. One must apologise all the time. Who should I apologise to and why?" Milanović said in response to questions from reporters during a visit to the southern town of Imotski.

Criticising the government's energy saving scheme on Thursday, Milanović said that if air conditioners would need to be set to 25 degrees Celsius, they had better be sold to Roma. "They will make a profit out of it. Roma are very skilled in these matters," he added.

Commenting on Kajtazi's reaction that he offended the entire Roma community, Milanović said that the question is "whether he is Roma at all".

He recalled saying several times that Kajtazi was the only member of Parliament with respectable voter support because out of some 10,000 Roma in Croatia, he received 3,000 votes in elections. "Given the large number of children among the Roma population, it turns out that almost everyone voted for him," Milanović said.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

60 Croatian Soldiers Sent Off to Hungary for Training with NATO Partners

ZAGREB, 27 July 2022 - Croatia's 1st contingent on Wednesday departed from Karlovac for Hungary to join NATO's enhanced Vigilance Activity (eVA) mission, and it was sent off by President Zoran Milanović.

Addressing the 60-strong contingent that includes four women soldiers, President Milanović told them that they were not going to Hungary by chance.

"An unclear and uneasy autumn lies ahead us. Being encouraged by the speech which the Chinese Prime Minister (Li Keqiang) delivered (in his video message) at the Pelješac Bridge inauguration ceremony, I am a bit more optimistic than ten days ago. It seems to me that the world could be wiser and that the terrors in Ukraine could be over soon and that human lives could be saved," said Milanović, the armed forces' supreme commander.

"We have no influence on how the war (in Ukraine) will end. It is the duty of our state leadership to make well-thought-out decisions. I have not signed this decision (on your departure) with ease, however, I have not signed it for you be sent to into danger. May you fill Croatia, its history and tradition with pride," the president said.

Croatia's troops, together with contingents from other NATO members, will participate in training and manoeuvres that will last up to seven months in Hungary.

The contingent includes military police troops, special troops, mine removal specialists, medical professionals and some other specialists. 

The contingent commander Ivan Zečević Tadić said that every peace mission carries risks and that the safety and security of the members of this contingent would be his priority.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Milanović: Pelješac Bridge Project of Entry to European Space for China

ZAGREB, 27 July 2022 - President Zoran Milanović said on Wednesday that Pelješac Bridge was a project whereby China entered European space but he noted that that space would remained closed to China for some time again considering the current geopolitical relations. 

"This is not their project, this is European, our money. A Chinese company won the job in a transparent tender but I'm afraid this is the last time they have won a project considering the situation in global relations and geopolitics," Milanović said.

Pelješac Bridge was built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) which competed for the project against Austria's Strabag and an Italian-Turkish consortium of bidders.

"I assume the project was an opportunity for the Chinese to enter European space which has now been closed to them for some time, regardless of the fact that they have done a good job. They, too, will have to open up to European companies a little more," Milanović told reporters.

He added that he was surprised that Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang addressed the Pelješac Bridge inauguration ceremony on Tuesday evening via video link, and that he could not say when the message was recorded.

"Had someone told me three weeks ago that we would be addressed by the prime minister of China, a country supporting Russia in its invasion of Ukraine (...), I would have said 'Let's see'. Now that I have seen it, thumbs up, but a little skewed," he said.

"What happened yesterday is interesting (...) China is not a problem to us the way it is to the USA and some other countries. The fact that we are in NATO does not mean that we blindly follow NATO members' policy. We won't rock the boat or bridge too much, but we do have our own interests," said Milanović.

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Tuesday, 26 July 2022

As Peljesac Bridge Opens, Does HDZ or SDP Deserve the Most Praise?

July the 26th, 2022 - As Peljesac bridge opens after what seems like an endless wait, which government actually deserves the most praise? While SDP is responsible in the most part for pushing forward with the EU, HDZ was the one to sign the final agreement.

As Faktograf/Sanja Despot writes, with both HDZ and SDP having played their respective roles, Peljesac bridge opens not only itself, but many questions about precisely who the most praise should be directed at. Competitive discussions about whose government is most responsible for its construction have started up again.

President Zoran Milanovic (SDP) stated that he started working on the bridge's implementation back in 2012, claiming that it is indeed true that he questioned whether or not it was a profitable investment, but that he asked those questions during the period from 2005 to 2011, and not back in 2012.

"My team and I participated in the realisation of this bridge, practically in a 95 percent way. Everything was over when I handed over the post of prime minister," he said and added that it all started with Ivan Sprlje, the former prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County, who spoke about the idea way back during his 1997 campaign.

When asked to comment on the president's statement that SDP is responsible for this enormous project, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said: "They're one hundred percent responsible. They messed around to try to ensure that nothing came of it,''

It's fairly easy to find Milanovic's quote from back in July 2015 on the Croatian Government's website, on the eve of the parliamentary elections that took place that year. Milanovic then said that "Peljesac bridge will be built regardless of who wins the elections", and that, as he said, "no one can blow it anymore, and they blew it for five years straight".

It's worth noting that the European Union (EU) didn't simply decide out of nowhere to provide the funds for the construction of the bridge back in 2016 when HDZ returned to power.

Back in July 2015, then Prime Minister Milanovic, together with ministers Branko Grcic and Sinisa Hajdas Doncic, presented the project to connect the extreme south of Croatia with the Peljesac bridge, saying that the idea of a bridge was chosen as the best option by those who decided on it all in the European Union.

The then Minister of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, Hajdas Doncic, said that the Peljesac bridge construction project inherited from the previous government was oversized and too expensive, which is why Milanovic's government terminated the contracts with the contractors in 2012. He added that after that, through OP traffic in 2007-2013, they were provided money for the pre-feasibility study and said that in parallel, through OP Cohesion and Competitiveness, in the part concerning transport for the financial period 2014-2020, funds were provided for connecting the isolated part of the Republic of Croatia (southern Dalmatia) to the rest of the country. Through European Union funding, Croatian Roads (Hrvatske ceste), as the project holder, contracted the feasibility studies.

On that occasion, Hajdas Doncic recalled that several connection solutions were considered, stressing that as the best solution, the Peljesac bridge project with all of its connecting roads received the best marks and was identified as a project that would meet all the set goals.

"The bridge can apply for cash from European Union funds on the condition that we prepare the studies that show that this is the best solution", said the Minister of Foreign Affairs Vesna Pusic back in 2012, before Croatia formally entered the European Union on July the 1st, 2013, which was also during the mandate of former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Pusic had then hoped that it could be financed from the IPA pre-accession fund.

In 2013, a preliminary feasibility study was carried out, financed by the European Commission (EC), which concluded that the best solution of all options for connecting the extreme south of the country was indeed a bridge.

During 2014 and 2015, once again during the mandate of Milanovic's government, a feasibility study was carried out, which was financed by EU funds, and which also confirmed that the best solution was the construction of Peljesac bridge. Then, at the end of 2016, confirmation was received from the EU that the project was ready for application for co-financing in the maximum amount of 85 percent. Finally, on June the 7th, 2017, a formal decision was made by the European Commission to co-finance the construction of the huge structure with 357 million euros.

In the spring of 2018, the then HDZ Minister of Regional Funds, Gabrijela Zalac, signed the contract on the construction of the bridge, which was worth over 2 billion kuna, between Croatian Roads and the Chinese consortium led by the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Regarding the part of Milanovic's statement that Ivan Sprlje, the late SDP prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County, was the initiator of the idea of ​​building the bridge, it should be noted that SDP and HDZ are persistently competing for the right of precedence, each with their own arguments. SDP claimed that Sprlje was the first to present the idea in his campaign, that is, they refer to the exact information that he was the first to draw up the bridge in the spatial plan, and from HDZ, they highlight the role of Luka Bebic, who was the first to speak about it in Parliament for HDZ in 1998.

It's a fact that in the years leading up to the moment when Peljesac bridge finally opens, SDP wasn't entirely sure whether or not it should dive in with that project, until the party took over the government, that is. It's also true that former HDZ Prime Minister Ivo Sanader "rather emptily" started his work on the bridge as part of his PR campaigns.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section.

Friday, 22 July 2022

Milanović Comments on Russia's Decision to Declare Croatia Hostile Country

ZAGREB, 22 July 2022 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović on Friday commented on the Russian government's decision to include Croatia on its list of hostile countries.

"We are not at war, but this has been going on for months. We are on hostile terms with Russia. We are not in it so actively like other countries that are in fact at war. This is a very dangerous situation that threatens to evolve into something enormous. I hope it does not," Milanović said.

The Russian government has added Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Slovakia, and Slovenia to its list of hostile countries, against which it is taking countermeasures, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Friday.

Croatia and Slovenia can no longer employ local staff in their diplomatic and consular posts. Greece is allowed to hire up to 34 people, Denmark 20 and Slovakia 16.

"The list approved by the government is not final and could be expanded given the continued hostile actions of foreign states against Russian missions abroad,” the Russian government said in a statement.

For more, check out our politics section.

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Milanović Meets Malta's Parliament and Government Officials in Valletta

ZAGREB, 12 July 2022 - Croatia's President Zoran Milanović held meetings with the Speaker of the Maltese House of Representatives, Anġlu Farrugia, Prime Minister Robert Abela and the Opposition's leader Bernard Grech, on Tuesday, the last day of his two-day state visit to Malta.

On Monday, he was received by his host, Malta's President George Vella, for the talks on Croatia's aspirations to join the Schengen Area, Malta's experience in the changeover to the euro and the status of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

These topics were also on the agenda of the meetings with the Maltese officials on Tuesday.

Vella invited Croatia's head of state to attend the Arraiolos Group's meeting which will be held in Malta this October. Arraiolos Group is an informal meeting of presidents of parliamentary and semi-presidential European Union member states, held roughly once in a year.

Milanović, accompanied by his wife Sanja Musić Milanović, paid the return visit to Valletta after his host Vella had visited Croatia last October.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 11 July 2022

Milanović Says Croatia Expects Malta to Support its Entry to Schengen Area

ZAGREB, 11 July 2022 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović held talks with his Maltese counterpart George Vella in Valletta on Monday and informed him that he expects Malta's support for Croatia's entry into the Schengen Area.

During their meeting the two presidents also discussed the adoption of the euro by Croatia and the position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A press release from the Croatian President's Office notes that the visit to Malta is a return State visit at the invitation of President Vella.

Milanović said that Croatia's entry into Schengen is of direct interest to Croatia. "We are an open economy, as all European economies should be, according to the fundamental documents of the EU and the European commitment to the idea of free markets," he underscored.

He added that it is in Croatia's interest to facilitate the flow of people coming to Croatia and participating in Croatia's tourist industry and that he expects Malta's support in this regard.

"I will not claim that it is a done deal, that Croatia will immediately enter the Schengen Area, but I hope for the best," said Milanović, who will also discuss the topic with the President of the House of Representatives Anġlu Farrugia, Prime Minister Robert Abel and the head of the opposition Bernardo Grech.

The presidents discussed the introduction of the euro in Croatia. Milanović said that it is being treated as a fait accompli and something that seems unstoppable to him.

"Croatia has made a decision. We will have to live with that decision. It is not a worrying decision. It has been tested by many countries, so I am hoping for the best. Of course, we are renouncing one of the basic tools of state sovereignty, monetary sovereignty. Our currency was created in the stormy and turbulent years of our recent history," said Milanović.

He again criticised the granting of EU membership candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova while Bosnia and Herzegovina was circumvented in that process at the recent EU summit meeting.

"Unfortunately, this is an issue where the attitude towards this topic goes from disappointment to anger, and things only go from bad to worse. The last move was to grant Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status while ignoring Bosnia and Herzegovina at the same time. That has nothing to do with prudent statesmanship, foresight and responsibility in international politics. That is something that really disappointed me," Milanović said.

He underscored that that is difficult to justify politically, tactically and ultimately ethically why the European Council - as the body that has a final say - did not grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"That omission goes hand in hand with a number of other omissions that we witnessed in the Western Balkans, such as the dynamics of the negotiation process of Montenegro and the absence of the beginning of the accession negotiations of Albania and North Macedonia. And finally, Serbia, which, unfortunately, chose its path and is clearly not that interested in the European processes and rules that it has to follow. Maybe they will change their decision within a reasonable period of time, maybe not," Milanović said, as carried by the press release.

According to the press release, Vella said that he understood the Croatian president's sensitivity on the issue of the rights of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and emphasised that the decades-long efforts of some candidates from the Western Balkans have not been rewarded.

A much greater commitment of the European Union to the countries of the Western Balkans is needed. In addition to leading to discontent in these countries, there is also a danger that these countries will begin to turn to the influence of third countries. A more serious and clearer European perspective would contribute, among other things, to the stability of Southeast Europe, said Vella.

In the context of Croatia's accession to the EU, Milanović said that the negotiations for membership in the Union were conducted with the knowledge that there are about 600,000 Croatian citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Therefore, it cannot be said that these people became Croatian citizens after Croatia's entry into the EU. They were that before 2013. A large number of Croats living in Croatia originate from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatia is obliged to help these people, to try to contribute to solving their problems, but in a peaceful way," said Milanović.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Milanović Discusses Euro Area, Schengen and BiH with Slovenian Foreign Minister

ZAGREB, 6 July 2022 - Croatian President Zoran Milanović on Wednesday received Slovenian Foreign Affairs Minister Tanja Fajon, with whom he talked about Ljubljana's support on Croatia's path towards membership of the Schengen Area and the euro area, as well as the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Milanović and Fajon talked about the possibilities of further improvement of cooperation between the two countries, as well as about Croatia's entry into the euro area and the Schengen Area, for which President Milanović expects Slovenia's support, his office said in a press release.

A topic of the meeting was also the situation in Southeast Europe, notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina. With regard to the upcoming elections in that country, President Milanović reiterated his position that it was important and necessary to ensure the legitimate representation of all three constituent peoples in that country.

Milanović expressed satisfaction with Slovenia's support in the effort to secure Bosnia and Herzegovina the status of a European Union candidate, which he himself advocates, and the two politicians also discussed the security crisis caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

For more, check out our politics section.


Friday, 1 July 2022

Milanović Responds to Criticism Over Stand at NATO Summit

ZAGREB, 1 July 2022 - President Zoran Milanović asked on Friday "what should I have done" at the NATO summit following criticism by the right-wing opposition that he was not harsh enough and that he softened his rhetoric on the accession of Finland and Sweden, which earlier he made conditional on Bosnia's election law.

At the Madrid summit this week, NATO invited Finland and Sweden to join. Milanović has long considered that should be made conditional on changes to Bosnia and Herzegovina's election law, although he says that in principle, he has nothing against the accession of those two countries.

Finland and Sweden will sign NATO accession protocols on Tuesday, which have to be ratified by all member states.

Yesterday, MP Marija Selak Raspudić (Bridge) said Milanović had played with the feelings and rights of Croats in BiH in a way and that "someone could ask him, where are you now, tough guy?"

Speaking to the press today, Milanović referred to her question at least a dozen times.

"What should I have done?... What should I have said? Which stand would have been the right one to satisfy Selak Raspudić?" he said when asked if he should have been more vehement.

"What do you mean, more vehement? To sully Finland and Sweden? I never do that."

Milanović reiterated that now all the responsibility on their NATO accession "is up to Croatian members of parliament."

Asked if he would, as he had said, "persecute as sinful souls" those MPs who vote for the accession, he said his message was first and foremost to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković because he missed the chance in Brussels in 23 June to help BiH win EU candidate status like Ukraine and Moldova did.

"Ukraine can't get candidate status overnight and BiH be left on the side," he said, adding that many in eastern Europe thought so too, but were using the excuse "well, you know what the situation is."

Milanović said a number of European leaders thought that Plenković failed to do that for BiH because "he got scared." "Sometimes you have to stand firmly behind some things. And then the paradox happens that Slovenian and Hungarian Prime Ministers Robert Golob and Viktor Orban do that instead."

Milanović reiterated that he "would do everything for the election law on BiH to be changed. But my possibilities and powers stop at one point and I can't prevent someone from signing that accession agreement on Croatia's behalf."

"That's active and topical until October, until election day in BiH, because the election law can be changed today, tomorrow, but if it's changed in November, it means nothing to us."

He went on to say that the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden was not a done deal and that the decision made in Madrid to invite them to join "is a general political stand" adopted after Turkey scrapped its blockade.

"You think the story was over with the signing of a memorandum by the three sides? The very next day they requested the extradition of 33 persons," he said about the memorandum Turkey signed with Finland and Sweden and its demand that they extradite 33 members of the PKK and FETO movement it considers terrorists.

Milanović went on to say that Europe and not the United States would deal with the issue of changes to BiH's election law. He said Croats in BiH "can be saved only by a miracle" and accused the Croatian government of "sadistic obstruction."

"That's the responsibility of Plenković and several of his vassals," he added and again criticised Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman for not attending the NATO summit.

For more, check out our politics section.

Friday, 1 July 2022

President Talks PM, Food Prices, Abortion

ZAGREB, 1 July 2022 - President Zoran Milanović said on Friday he was sorry he did not meet Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at today's conference on the occasion of Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts Day, saying Plenković decided against attending when he found out that Milanović would.

Milanović said he was not competing with Plenković. "For me personally, he is zero, but he is the president of the HDZ (party), the prime minister, he won the election, he is responsible for the rampant corruption, deserving for less political radicalism in life, which he succeeded in suppressing in the HDZ because he is a communist."

Food prices, abortion

Speaking of high food prices, Milanović said they were a consequence of the war in Ukraine and that the government could do nothing about it. As for the vouchers announced by the government, he said it was copying Austria.

The president said it was not realistic for abortion rights to be entered into the Constitution, as demanded by the Social Democratic Party and the Green-Left Bloc.

When it comes to abortion, he said "we've had this issue solved in an appropriate way almost 50 years now," better than the Americans who, he said, have been waging a cultural war since 1973.

For more, check out our politics section.

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