DAVOR BOŽINOVIĆ, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia: One Doesn’t Change a Successful Team in the Middle of the Game

All the research has shown that citizens give positive evaluation of the way in which the Government of Croatia has responded to the crisis caused by the pandemic. That is why we justifiably expect that we will regain their trust in the elections, because in the second half we will have to repair the economic consequences of the crisis

Not many countries have faced such challenges as Croatia: the pandemic, an earthquake in the capital city and possible unforeseeable consequences for the tourism industry and many other businesses, and thus people’s jobs. However, Davor Bozinovic, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia who was directly in charge of responding to the pandemic, believes that the citizens should look at the entire situation, including the upcoming elections, from the angle of answering the question – who would they trust to bring their ship back to a safe harbour? Bozinovic believes that one should stick to well-tested wisdom that one should not change the winning team.

In your opinion, how has the situation with the COVID 19 pandemic affected the electorate and the position of the parties?

Croatia reacted to the pandemic early and achieved excellent results that make us one of the most successful countries in the world in the fight against the Corona virus. In all the parameters, from the number of sick, deceased and cured to the fact that the health system was not overloaded at any time. In a situation that has put many health systems to the test, Croatia has achieved a balance between a number of key factors, namely the lockdown measure, readiness and functioning of all the necessary systems and services, maintaining the necessary economic activities, and most importantly – the trust of our citizens who have unquestionably been our greatest allies, conscientious, responsible and in solidarity. Such an approach is already called the “Croatian model”. Croatia’s capital was hit by a devastating earthquake in the midst of a pandemic, so we simultaneously had to deal with two crises that were sending opposite messages, one was “stay home” while the other in that horror of the earthquake necessarily had to read “get out where it’s safe”. But even in that situation, we organized ourselves to the maximum. With intervention measures worth more than 5 billion kuna, we have enabled the economy and citizens to overcome the first period of economy and normal activities lockdown. All of this required responsibility, quick adaptability, and reflection at least one step ahead of an unknown virus and the disease with a “thousand faces” that infected more than eight million people in a matter of months. Citizens were able to compare the situation and the reaction of the authorities in Croatia with the situation in various other countries in real time. All research has shown that citizens believe that this Government managed the crisis efficiently and with well-balanced reactions. We justifiably expect the citizens to continue to trust us because we are facing the second half of the game, repairing the economic consequences of the crisis and the upward trend that we had before the pandemic.

What are the key messages that HDZ wants to send to the voters, and how do you plan to win over the undecided voters?

The key message is that we want to lead Croatia as a safe country, and that means a country of social security, solidarity, inclusion, justice and stable institutions. This also means that Croatia is a well-positioned member and a reliable partner of the European Union. The undecided voters also notice the facts and all the achievements of this Government. By the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we had created 105,000 jobs and achieved the highest employment so far, pensions have risen twice as much and the minimum wage three times as much as in previous governments, while at the same time we significantly relieved the citizens and businesses, especially the young people. We have successfully protected Croatia from a possible wave of migrants, provided security to our and European citizens, and ranked among the tourist destinations that are breaking records. More than ever, the importance of public service efficiency, financial resilience and the role of the state in managing major crises have been demonstrated. In recent years, we have clearly shown that we know how to deal with various crises and challenges of today, from the largest corporate restructuring in Europe in response to the bankruptcy of the largest Croatian and regional concern, which threatened to cause a chain effect for the entire economy, to numerous issues of economic transition. We have resisted fires, floods and devastating earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic shock, and during all that time we have remained a peaceful, secure and stable country on an upward economic trajectory. Even this global crisis has not undermined Croatia’s investment credit rating achieved during our term, reflecting the well-calibrated management of public finances over the past three years, public debt reduction and healthy economic growth that is not based on borrowing. We are close to Schengen and the introduction of the Euro, which are the strategic goals of this HDZ government. We have met all the technical conditions for Schengen membership and with a number of arguments we can certainly testify that Croatia in Schengen is in the interest of the European Union. The European Commission has also published a 2020 Convergence Report, setting out its assessment of the progress made by non-euro area Member States towards the introduction of the euro. Croatia and Sweden meet all the criteria of economic convergence, and only Croatia has fully harmonized legislation with the rules of economic and the monetary union. The European Central Bank announced that an analysis of Croatia’s five largest banks showed that none of them had capital shortfalls. This is an important confirmation of the stability and quality of the Croatian banking system, and another step towards joining ERM II.

What are the 5 points from your election program that you have the most hope for from the spectrum of politics and economy?

Social security is the first precondition for the development of modern society, and we stand firmly behind this assumption in our program. The crises we have faced have further highlighted the need to strengthen the health care system, but also the role of the state in preserving jobs, pensions and social benefits. It is important to establish social balance, find solutions for a better standard and greater opportunities for people from different social groups, especially the marginalized groups. When we talk about the future and perspectives of Croatia, we are talking about a competitive economy based on new and clean technologies that create added value and in which people of modern knowledge and skills work, and the key to this is comprehensive education. We strive for self-sufficiency in food and energy production in order to achieve economic sovereignty, and sustainable development policy plays a key role in this. We want and offer a strengthened Croatian state, which is another name for better management of state property, digitalization of public services, efficient administration and efficient judiciary. The construction of broadband infrastructure for the development of digital Croatia plays a very important role in this. We believe that it is important for Croatia to be globally recognizable. This contributes to the opening of new markets, attracting investment, tourist attractiveness of the country and the promotion of Croatian culture in the world. Even these five points from our program, which is otherwise developed for every area of life and economy, depict a country that I believe everyone with good intentions would give their vote to.

When you sum up the results of work of the Ministry you lead, what is it that you are especially proud of, and what could be better?

I would like to single out the equipping of the Police and the improvement of the material status of Croatian police officers. I am particularly pleased that in the past three years we have managed to systematically solve long-standing problems and correct a number of injustices from past mandates. Interest in the police profession has obviously increased in the last three years. Safety is a Croatian brand, Croatia is at the top of all ranking lists of safe countries, after all, we would not be one of the most attractive tourist destinations if people in our country do not feel safe. In modern world, many countries, including the richest ones, with the longest democratic traditions, are facing serious problems regarding the safety of their cities and people. That’s not the case in Croatia. We are a country where you can walk relaxed at any time. The Croatian Police is a qualified, reliable partner to all international security and police organizations in fight against organized crime. Over the past three years, it participated in a series of large international actions against drug, arms and human traffickers. Our Police records extraordinary results here. We are very successful in protecting the Croatian and European borders from illegal migration and we have the strongest border police in Europe. In addition to meeting all technical requirements, we have shown with this that Croatia in Schengen is of European interest, because Croatia is a country that has a balanced, responsible and professional approach to the protection of its own and European borders and the issue of illegal migration. What could be better? We have the foundations, they are good and they can be improved, but I think that the Ministry of Interior is going in the right direction, as well as the entire Government.

Political life is followed by many affairs. How much do they burden HDZ and the Government, and to what extent are they fabricated and to what extent are they real?

They burden every Government, even this one, but with Andrej Plenković as the Prime Minister and with HDZ there is a very clear position, any kind of abuse of political position must be identified, clarified and sanctioned. Our goal is an efficient and just society. Andrej Plenković’s Government cleared and resolved everything, ensuring political stability in the country. This made it possible to finish the mandate in which all the parameters of financial stability of the state, the economic progress of the country and the standards of the citizens were raised. And how important all this is, we saw when we were struck and almost paralyzed by the sudden Corona crisis.

An unavoidable issue is the migrant crisis. After the crisis with COVID 19, the so-called Balkan route has opened up. How many migrants tried to enter Croatia illegally, and what is done with them when you catch them on the territory of the Republic of Croatia? Is there any realistic solution to this problem?

The phenomenon of illegal migrations, which is associated with severe and cruel organized crime, exists on our doorstep all the time and will continue to exist. Croatia has set itself up inthe only possible way, we do not allow illegal migration, and we are successfully fighting the accompanying crime. We have the right to such an attitude and protection of our border, just like any other state. We are ready for solidarity, but at the same time we recognize that there is no single European approach to this problem and we support solutions that lead to agreement and evenly distribute the burden of migration. We are ready to help those who really need help, but we are not ready to be a gathering place for illegal migrants. We reject the accusations of various organizations and political groups on the left side of the political spectrum that attribute every injury of migrants to the Croatian police. In the world of illegal migration there is a lot of violence and very difficult situations, it is a life on the edge in which migrants are primarily victims of organized crime and mutual confrontations. After trying to cross the border illegally twenty times, they probably think that the accusations against the Croatian Police could increase their chances. Ultimately, they are not helping anyone, neither illegal migrants nor the countries they are trying to pass through illegally. They do not send the only real message to people in need: “Don’t do this, it is dangerous and forbidden”, and in the end, migrants are usually helped by the Croatian Police, by saving their lives in very dangerous and difficult situations. In the first five months of this year, we recorded about 10 percent less illegal border crossings, which is expected due to the situation with the coronavirus epidemic. With the easing of measures, we expect the pressure on Croatian borders to increase, especially since the migrant camps in Bosnia are located directly in front of the Croatian border.

Do you believe to have an answer to the economic crisis in Croatia or is it maybe too much for any government, considering its global dimension?

Yes, we have the answer and we accept responsibility for such a demanding task. We have a plan and program with coverage. One of the major projects we will initiate is the reconstruction of Zagreb. We have requested EU funds for repairing the damage, an advance of €100 million will arrive in the summer. The total damage is €11.5 billion, ten seconds of earthquake brought us 10 years of a complex process of rebuilding the city. In the meantime, we have already signed a $200 million loan with the World Bank for the reconstruction of schools and hospitals, we have secured money for emergency interventions through budget revision, and we are also financing rents for citizens who cannot be in their homes. On a wider scale, we are very thoughtfully arranging opportunities for the most favourable borrowing in the domestic and foreign financial markets in order to overcome the consequences of the corona crisis this year. We experienced this crisis more resiliently and were able to provide massive support to the private sector, half a million people were paid for three months of the crisis, thus preventing a new mass of unemployed. Since the beginning of the crisis, we have reduced the burden on citizens and the economy by almost 150 million euros.

We are introducing new measures to help the economy, first in line is a measure to support part-time work. At the same time, we are doing everything we can to get through this tourist season to the best of our ability in the given circumstances. We are encouraged by the arrival of more than 100,000 tourists, the announcement of over 350,000 arrivals via the EnterCroatia system, as well as recommendations in the world’s leading media that Croatia is a country that has resisted the epidemic and is a safe and comfortable vacation spot. Mega yachts are also coming, there is a noticeable demand for more luxurious accommodation. We can be satisfied with the European Commission’s economic recovery plan. 10 billion euros are planned for Croatia, of which 7.3 billion euros are grants, and 2.65 billion are possible loans. In the draft of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the allocation for Croatia will probably be more generous than the draft that was on the table in February. In short, we want and are convinced that we can provide Croatia with 20 billion euros in the next seven years as a safety net for economic recovery