A Week in Croatian Politics - Floods, Healthcare Woes and a Trip to Iceland

A Week in Croatian Politics - Floods, Healthcare Woes and a Trip to Iceland
Matko Begovic/PIXSELL

May the 19th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had visits from a Belgian diplomat, the Council of Europe summit in Iceland, flooding issues, ongoing healthcare salary woes and the origin of mysterious threats against the government.

Plenkovic holds a working meeting about the Croatian floods and tells people to go on Google to see how bad it is in Italy

As Index reports, the Karlovac County building played host recently to a working meeting between Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his ministers, the local community and competent services on the further activities of all components of the homeland security and civil protection system with the aim of helping the population and preventing damage due to rising water levels.

"Huge water levels in several counties, flood defenses, and abnormally high river levels are continuing. Unfortunately, the situation is similar, maybe even worse, in other European countries," said Plenkovic at the beginning of the working meeting, as reported by N1. The PM thanked everyone who participated in flood defense and those who helped other people before noting that these are record water levels.

"Our defense system could maybe be better"

When asked if there could have been a better reaction in certain places, he said: "As far as I know, the River Una was over five metres in Hrvatska Kostajnica. The situation is complex, but efforts have been made. The defense system may be better. That said, it is better than it has been in the past. Look at the bigger picture, go on Google, see what's happening in Italy. These are huge natural disasters, and there was excellent coordination."

He added that there are about 500 households covered by the Red Cross/Crveni kriz: "If someone didn't manage to get help, it doesn't mean that it won't happen and that that help won't arrive. Minister Tomo Medved will go to Sisak because there are problems with the dams there."

"These are very high water levels"

"In the context of spatial planning and the selection of the locations for facilities, we must take into account the risks in certain areas. Croatian waters have a risk map where flooding is likely to occur, so we need an element of self-prevention. We need to work further on retentions. We heard how important natural retentions are which we have in Lonjsko polje, but now the same will need to be done with the Kupa. Care must be taken to insure these facilities. The mayor said that there are locations where people have constructed things, they're risky areas and because of that, insurance companies don't want to provide insurance policies. These are very high water levels. What used to be a once-in-a-hundred-year defense standard is changing. Why do we have these meetings on global climate change? Because changes happen quickly," Plenkovic concluded.

Another meeting has been scheduled following yet another protest about wages in the healthcare sector

Neither the Nurses' and Technicians' Union nor the Independent Union are satisfied after a meeting with the Ministers of Health, Labour and Finance, and have now demanded an increase in their salaries in any way. Ministers have stated that they will find a solution, and a new meeting regarding those demands has been arranged for Monday.

Minister of Health Vili Beros said after the meeting with the trade unions, which he judged to have been constructive, that they agreed today that some things in the past were really not good, that the stability of the system was disrupted by numerous changes to the regulation on coefficients, and that they have to improve on all of that going forward.

The unions are asking the powers that be within the world of Croatian politics for a ten percent salary increase for all employees working within the healthcare system and say that they cannot just keep sitting, twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the new law to come into force in 2024.

"In good faith and through concrete talks, I believe that we'll manage to find a solution, and the continuation of these talks will take place on Monday. We aren't going to sit and talk about the specific elements of any would-be wage increases for now, and we'll be looking at the broader issue and what lies ahead of us," repeated the minister, adding that the will of the government to improve things is very much there, given that there were three ministers at the meeting who all want to solve these problems together in the context of the arrival of the new law and different regulations.

When asked if these continued talks are leading to the fact that under the new law, healthcare employees will receive not only a ten percent increase but perhaps a larger one, Beros replied that this possibility exists and that a methodology for calculating future coefficients will be presented to all of the ministries, and union representatives will also participate in those calculations.

When asked if the unions could expect a ten percent salary increase before the aforementioned new law was passed, Beros stated that Finance Minister Marko Primorac said at the meeting that "it's difficult to expect changes in the coefficients as such before the new law is passed", but that there are a number of other elements that are very much available. Minister of Labour Marin Piletic said that the new wage law should come into force on January the 1st, 2024, and it will include new coefficients and the base rate. The law will be referred to the parliamentary procedure in June.

Minister Piletic also stated that after the government session, he intends to invite all representatives of the involved unions to sign the addendum to the Basic Collective Agreement and the Collective Agreement, where after three rounds of negotiations they agreed to increase the amount of compensation for all 235,000 employees in state and public services. They decided to raise the compensation from 199 euros to 300 euros for union members, and to 250 for all other employees.

The President of the Main Council of the Croatian Professional Union of Nurses and Technicians, Anica Prasnjak, clarified that on Monday they will continue to discuss their demands, while today they discussed the issue that led to the situation in which they felt that they had to protest.

"We aren't satisfied, but for now we can't really say anything else until we see what another round of talks brings and whether things will move in a different direction as a result. We can't hang onto anything at the moment except for the next meeting, which will be the crowning moment," Prasnjak added.

The president of the Independent Trade Union, Stjepan Topolnjak, said that he will not and cannot wait for until next year for Croatian politics to act in terms of the introduction of a new salary law, nor can he wait for the rules on new coefficients to come into force.

"We aren't interested in how the government will raise our salaries. We're asking for an increase in our salaries, and when it comes to how that will be done, we'll leave that to the minister and possibly to the prime minister," he said. Topolnjak also confirmed that a full strike is still an option that is very firmly on the table should their demands continue to be kicked into the long grass.

Plenkovic attends the Council of Europe's summit in Iceland

Having experienced war and the attempt to wipe out a country and its identity just thirty years ago, the Republic of Croatia has continued to show solidarity with Ukraine in the wake of Russian aggression. The figures we see in Croatian politics may be a lot of things, but their united and unwavering support for Ukraine ever since the Russian invasion has been firm.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic spoke about Russian aggression against Ukraine at the recently held Council of Europe summit in Iceland. Croatia also officially signed the damage register, a legal instrument that will find ways to compensate Ukraine for the enormous amount of war damage it has suffered at the hands of the Russians, the prime minister said.

"Fundamental values are currently under attack. Freedom is under attack. Democracy is under attack. Russian aggression against Ukraine somehow woke all of us up from the peace that the whole of Europe had enjoyed for decades after the Second World War, as well as the aggression during Milosevic's regime in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, including Croatia," Plenkovic said in an address at the summit meeting of the Council of Europe, an organisation that included Russia until last year.

The heads of state and government of the Council of Europe members adopted the declaration at the end of the summit. "This declaration has one main message - that we're united around common values and that we're all united in solidarity and support for Ukraine," Plenkovic told reporters after the summit.

It's worth noting that the Republic of Croatia became a full member of the Council of Europe on November the 6th, 1996, not long after Yugoslavia collapsed and it gained its independence as a nation. At the summit, Plenkovic recalled the fact that he was part of the team that worked on Croatia's entry into the Council of Europe back in the mid 1990s.

Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman meets with his Belgian counterpart, Hadja Lahbib, in Zagreb

After having recently flown on a commercial flight to the British capital for the coronation of King Charles III earlier this month following Zoran Milanovic's trip to London being cancelled due to a government plane issue, he spent this week busy welcoming a Belgian diplomat.

His counterpart, Hadja Lahbib, made a visit to the Croatian capital this week, and they spent Monday in Zagreb touching on the importance of strengthening Croatian-Belgian bilateral relations in view of the current situation in Europe, and also discussed multiple mutual challenges such as the war in Ukraine and its ongoing negative economic consequences. The ministers emphasised the importance of maintaining contacts between Croatia and Belgium in order to progress at the EU level, as well as to jointly find solutions to current challenges such as decarbonisation. Lahbib also met with PM Andrej Plenkovic.

Since Belgium will preside over the EU Council from January next year, the pair from the spheres of Belgian and Croatian politics also talked about the Schengen area, of which Croatia became a part on the first day of this year, the suppression of illegal migration, the situation in the Western Balkans and the future of the enlargement process as well as the future of the European Union itself.

Grlic-Radman emphasised the importance of unity in decisions that will ensure "solidarity and commitment on the part of EU member states", according to the press release of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

The death threats made to Plenkovic and his government ministers which made headlines last week appear to have come from abroad

Most of us have complaints, but there are those who will take it a hundred steps further in their dislike for those in Croatian politics, and death threats aren't that uncommon of an issue. The powers that be within the Croatian police (MUP) recently that they are continuing to conduct a criminal investigation into the threats made against Plenkovic and numerous government ministers last week "with the aim of determining all of the circumstances and identifying those responsible.''

In the police's press release, they stated that on Friday morning, the Zagreb Police Department "received a report from an unknown person who expressed threats towards the Prime Minister and members of the Government of the Republic of Croatia".

In view of the received report, i.e. the seriousness of the threats, additional police forces were dispatched and deployed to St. Mark's Square (Markov trg). RTL Danas/Today has since learned that the threat was made by a man by phone from abroad. Government spokesman Marko Milic also confirmed earlier that the police came to the headquarters of the Croatian Government because of threats to kill the prime minister and his ministers.

Plenkovic has since touched on the issue, noting that this isn't the first time he and his government have received such threats, and that most of them don't end up getting media attention.


For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section. A dedicated Week in Croatian Politics article is also published every Friday.