In the letter, sent to Plenković on 28 October, the president claims that Banožić abused his powers by sending into early retirement the commander of the Honorary and Protection Battalion, Colonel Elvis Burčul.
Minister harassing, discriminating HV officer
Milanović says that Burčul’s case is extremely important because it shows the minister’s behavior pattern, notably in light of the fact that Burčul is a decorated officer, Homeland War volunteer, and commander of the unit in charge of the security of the President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief.
He recalls that the proposal to extend Burčul’s term was sent to Banožić by the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff, based on an assessment that it is in line with operational reasons and is a common procedure, with none of the former defence ministers ever having withheld their consent.
This time, the minister “not only withheld his consent but told the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff and my defence and national security advisor that he would never sign any decision (to that effect) for the officer in question and that he must leave the army, without giving any justified reason for his position,” Milanović says.
Milanović recalls having asked Banožić directly why he was withholding his consent and telling him that he would withdraw his proposal if there was a serious reason for the minister’s position, to which the minister, without going into detail, repeated several times that “the Colonel is a bad person.”
“The minister has the right to give or withhold his consent but he does not have the right to abuse that power,” Milanović says in the letter, noting that sending Burčul into retirement was just that and that Banožić also falsely claimed that he had acted in line with the retirement plan for 2021 while Burčul’s name was not on that list.
Noting that Banožić’s decision was motivated by personal reasons, Milanović expresses hope that those reasons are not political, adding that the minister’s conduct is an act of abuse of powers and harassment and discrimination of a Croatian Army officer.
Burčul’s retirement is an attempt to politicize the Armed Forces and divide officers into suitable and unsuitable ones, those whom the minister likes and those he does not like, says Milanović.
“Neither you, as Prime Minister, nor I, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief can tolerate that,” the president says in the letter.
He also cites a number of cases in which the defence minister enabled a set of personnel decisions at the Defence Ministry that is entirely contrary to the law.
Milanović notes that the minister was warned about and informed of problems regarding army personnel matters and the material situation and level of equipment of the army on a number of occasions but failed to act on it.
“That is why I have requested a session of the Defence Council to focus on that topic… The situation is not good and it requires urgent action,” the president says in his letter.
Banožić makes statements in NATO, EU without the president’s consent
The president further notes that Banožić attends NATO and EU ministerial meetings without informing him, as President and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, of it, and that he makes statements at those events on Croatia’s behalf without his consent.
“The positions expressed that way, without prior agreement, can only be the positions of your government, naturally, if you give your consent for them, but they are not Croatia’s positions because I, as President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, do not give my consent. Any obligation which your minister may undertake in that way and which concerns the constitutional powers of the President of the Republic and the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief, is potentially unimplementable,” Milanović warns, adding that such conduct on the minister’s part can cause damage to the country’s international reputation.
“Mr. Prime Minister, if your government continues with such conduct and your minister insists on the politicization of the Armed Forces, I will, if necessary, resort to Article 144(5) of the Croatian Constitution in the defence segment, for the purpose of protecting the interests of the Republic of Croatia,” Milanović says in the letter.
Article 144(5) of the Constitution reads: The Republic of Croatia shall be represented in the Council and the European Council by the Government and the President of the Republic of Croatia in accordance with their respective constitutional powers.
For more on politics, follow TCN’s dedicated page.