ZAGREB, June 30, 2020- HDZ president and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and SDP president and Restart Coalition leader Davor Bernardic said on Monday they did not want a grand coalition after the election and that one of their first moves after it would be the adoption of a law on the post-earthquake reconstruction of Zagreb.
“A grand coalition with the SDP, never,” Plenkovic said in their first TV debate on RTL television.
Bernardic said a grand coalition was out of the question “with a party on trial for corruption and whose 11 ministers had to leave the government on suspicion of corruption.”
He said that after the July 5 vote Restart could form a coalition with left and centre-left parties, but never with Miroslav Skoro’s Homeland Movement, Bridge, or Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic’s party.
“A vote for Skoro is obviously a vote for the HDZ,” said Bernardic, while Plenkovic said Skoro proved to be a great SDP ally in the presidential election and that he felt centre-right voters would not disperse their votes by voting for Skoro.
Plenkovic asked Bernardic why he would not form a coalition with Bandic, saying he was “his pupil” and that Bandic helped him become the president of the SDP.
Bernardic: HDZ has left Zagreb residents in the lurch; Plenkovic: HDZ has given HRK 1.7 million for reconstruction, you have given nothing
Speaking of the adoption of a Zagreb reconstruction law, Bernardic said Restart would present a bill on Tuesday “because we are responsible and that will be one of our government’s first moves.”
He said the Plenkovic cabinet left the people of Zagreb in the lurch because they would have no accommodation when winter came, adding that this was irresponsible and should not have happened.
Plenkovic said the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), its MPs and government members had donated HRK 1.7 million for the reconstruction of the capital after the March quake and the SDP (Social Democratic Party) nothing, and that in the revised budget the government set aside HRK 141 million for intervention works on damaged buildings.
He added that the state was paying rent for all who could not stay in their flats after the quake and that the government was paying HRK 3 million for the expenses of those temporarily accommodated in a student dorm. “The bill is ready and it will be the first our next parliament will enact.”
Bernardic: Ustasha salute should be outlawed
Speaking of the “For the homeland ready” salute, Bernardic said it should be banned by law also in the coat of arms of the HOS militia from the 1991-95 Homeland War. He said the salute suited Serbia and those using it against Croatia. “There is no place for the Ustasha salute in the public sphere.”
Plenkovic said a former SDP government legalised the salute in the coat of arms of a Zagreb HOS association, adding that he was personally against it. “It has no place in the public sphere, except in small exemptions which we have done out of respect for Croatian war veterans.”
Speaking of the education reform, Bernardic said Restart’s goal was to educate children for the labour market, improve PISA test results, and introduce civic education.
Plenkovic said the education reform was launched during the incumbent government which, he added, aligned education with labour market requirements and increased the Science and Education Ministry budget by over 30%.
Plenkovic: Bernardic has shown a lack of knowledge about European topics
Speaking of Croatia’s EU presidency, Bernardic said Croatia “slept through it” and that it did not raise the issue of the novel coronavirus or migrants. “We did absolutely nothing during the Croatian presidency.”
Plenkovic said Bernardic had shown a lack of knowledge about those topics and that the Croatian presidency had ensured an orderly Brexit and agreed on a mandate for negotiations on future EU-UK relations, among other things, and that Bernardic had never shown the slightest interest in European topics.
Speaking of COVID-19, Bernardic said Croatia did not procure the necessary equipment in time and that it was doing too few tests, calling the national response team a political body whose decisions encroached on some constitutional rights.
“You haven’t taken any responsibility for the deaths of 20 residents of the (care) home in Split. The lockdown was imposed after elections in the HDZ… You endangered citizens’ health then and you are doing the same thing now,” said Bernardic.
“Thanks to our engagement, we have not only saved lives and the economy, but we were also the first in the EU to launch a COVID response mechanism, we protected hospitals. In Europe, the virus has claimed most lives in homes for the elderly. Our achievement is that we’ve had only 107 deaths,” Plenkovic responded.
Bernardic: You pushed Croatia into an election; Plenkovic: We wish to have a stable government by autumn
Plenkovic said experts were predicting a second COVID-19 wave in the autumn and that he wished to have a stable new government by then.
Bernardic said Plenkovic had pushed Croatia into a parliamentary election despite a rise in new infections, that he was opening the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina only so that HDZ sympathisers could come to Croatia to vote, and that by refusing to self-isolate after a recent tennis tournament in Zadar, Plenkovic was putting the tourist season at risk.
“Hungary and Slovenia will close their borders. (Their tourists) won’t be coming to (our) sea because they will have to self-isolate (upon returning) home,” said Bernardic.
He went on to say that if his coalition came to power, it would adopt a moratorium on loan payments because this government, he added, had failed to so, siding with banks. “We have sent a proposal for a shorter work week because of the EU’s SURE programme.”
“I’m flabbergasted that you want to be prime minister, you know nothing,” responded Plenkovic. “The EU Next Generation is a new instrument. My government in October 2016 encountered 9% of contracted funds, 1% paid out. Today we have 96% agreed and 36% paid out. We are fighting to get another €22 billion in the next seven years. I hope such ignorance won’t have the opportunity to represent Croatia in the EU. I’m disappointed, you could have prepared, it saddens me.”
Bernardic: Who believes you?
Asked about the minimum wage, which amounts to HRK 3,250, Plenkovic said that during the SDP government it went up to HR 250 and during his 750.
“Before COVID, the public debt was reduced to 73% of GDP. It used to be 81%. We are trying to make the quality of life better for everyone. Croatian citizens live better than four years ago,” he said, adding that his government had relieved citizens and businesses of HRK 9 billion in taxes.
“Who believes you? Investors don’t believe you. We have fallen on the Doing Business ranking. You have collected HRK 15 billion more in taxes, yet you talk about relief. Entrepreneurs are burdened,” countered Bernardic.
He said that after the election he would reduce the number of ministries and abolish the State Assets Ministry, calling it a made-up ministry. “Our goal is a smaller state administration, fewer municipalities and towns, and tax relief. Plenkovic and the HDZ had four years, yet they didn’t do it.”
Plenkovic too announced fewer ministries, saying he would say how many after winning the election.