With the outbreak of the crisis, Croatia faced the truth and real deep problems that trouble our country and our citizens. HDZ tried to use the pandemic for its own promotion, but they failed at that. Contrary to that, SDP offered adequate solutions to save the economy and work places, so the RESTART Coalition is entering the election race in a winning mood.
In many countries, citizens are going to the polls as soon as the pandemic has weakened. One of the main debates is about whether the parties in power in the period when Covid-19 was the strongest gained significant advantage over other political competitors. Davor Bernardić, President of SDP and the leader of RESTART Coalition, believes that the cards were additionally shuffled during the crisis in Croatia.
- In your opinion, how did the situation with the pandemic affect the electorate and the parties’ position?
The pandemic showed just how vulnerable the world is, and it warned of the necessity of global cooperation between the centres of power. Up until now, the USA, China, Russia and the EU as the four poles of the global power of influence, conducted an independent politics. In the future, when it comes to fight against a common threat, cooperation will be a necessity. Also, many countries turned to domestic resources, especially when it comes to manufacture, so this will change the global economic relations, as well as the manner of forming aggregate demand. Croatia has faced the truth and real deep problems that trouble our country, our society and the economy, our citizens. HDZ tried to take advantage of the crisis for their own promotion, however, they did not succeed in that because the work of the so-called Headquarters was politicized and it turned out that they were paying PR agencies to profit from someone else’s misfortune. The Government and Plenković hid behind the Headquarters all the time, and in fact it is true that Croatia was late in preparing the country from the threat, in procuring protective equipment, in measures for the economy and citizens, as well as in security protocols for the hospital system and retirement homes, especially because of the fact that the first meeting in the Government was held on January 9, 2020, but nothing was done due to intra-party elections at HDZ. Since Croatia is looking at an economic Armageddon, in an attempt to escape the reality, Plenković escaped to elections. During the crisis, SDP offered adequate solutions for salvation of the economy and work places, over 23 draft laws that the governing party did not accept. And SDP showed that we have the best team that can get the country out of the crisis. The citizens recognized this, so at this moment, the RESTART Coalition is the most likely winner of the elections.
- How did SDP and Restart Coalition use the time to prepare for the elections?
After winning the elections for the EU Parliament and the victory of our presidential candidate Zoran Milanović, we at SDP did not wait, immediately at the beginning of the year we formed the central headquarters, and appointed 10 coordinators. The Corona crisis has slowed down Croatia and the world, but it did help us look at the problems our country is facing from a different perspective. The crisis has only temporarily put all the problems of the citizens of Croatia in the background, and over time these problems will be even deeper and even greater.
The people are overwhelmed by pessimism and hopelessness. Over a million people live on the brink of poverty, mostly retirees. Healthcare is facing a complete collapse due to numerous scandals and debts. Educational reform does not exist, the security system lags behind, the state apparatus is cumbersome and does not fulfil its purpose. The situation in the judiciary has never been worse, corruption has affected all the pores of our society. Croatia therefore needs a restart, a new beginning. Because of that, after the Corona crisis, we successfully completed negotiations with the coalition partners and prepared our Program for a new beginning for Croatia. Our coalition is getting stronger by the day, and today, more than ever, I am convinced of the victory of a modern, progressive and successful Croatia for the future of all the citizens of our country.
- Does the timing of the elections benefit you or the Government?
I think that the most important thing is that it benefits the citizens, because the citizens want to get rid of the most corrupt government in Croatian history as soon as possible, the government that has not implemented a single reform.
- Political life is followed by numerous affairs. How much do they burden you, and to what extent do they facilitate your approach to voters?
As for me, I’m not burdened by the affairs since I don’t have any. But considering everything that has been happening to some politicians in Croatia lately, it is definitely true that they can ruin a political career. Just look at the fact that 11 ministers had to leave this Government due to suspicions of corruption, or that the same Government was held in power through political corruption, i.e. through the buying of votes of members of the Croatian Parliament. This Government and the current Prime Minister have shown that they are not up to the job they performed and that they have no team. To put it in sports terms, when 11 players leave due to suspicion of corruption, then maybe the problem is not just the players, but primarily the head coach. All the more so because Prime Minister Plenković himself was involved in the biggest affair in Croatian history, the Agrokor affair, where hundreds of millions of kunas went to dubious consulting services, which led to the dismissal of his first associate, Deputy Prime Minister Martina Dalić.
- In your opinion, what needs to be restarted in the political life and in the Croatian society?
This crisis opened Croatia’s eyes and showed that we cannot live only from tourism and the sale of imported products, that we do not have a strong industry and production because it was destroyed in the looting and privatization of the ‘90s by HDZ, that we are not self-sufficient in agricultural production, that the state administration is too big and does not fulfil its purpose, that corruption in Croatia has gained momentum and affected all the levels of the society and that Croatia has not made any reforms in the last four years, which is why the way out of this crisis will be long and arduous. Therefore, Croatia needs a RESTART today more than ever. A new beginning on a healthy basis, justly, not through friendly partnerships, without corruption. Our goal is to cut down the number of ministries, inefficient state administration and the number of municipalities and cities. Our goal is to digitalize our country, all public services, services and processes, so that the state administration is as close as possible to the citizens, but without corruption. We will fight corruption by all means, by changing the laws, tightening penalties, but also reforming the judiciary. We will unleash the huge potential that Croatia has for the growth of agricultural production, for the development of creative industries, encouraging the growth of industry and exports, by introducing tax relief and encouraging investments.
Croatia needs to unleash the huge potential of its natural resources and its most important resource, and that is our people, creative, honest and hardworking. The time has come for such a policy as well. We will reform education and modernize health care.
Today, Croatia needs a fair, responsible and transparent government that has a plan and strategy for dealing with the crisis and a clear vision of the future. We have the people, the strength and the vision to make a change in our country, for a new beginning for Croatia.
- 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 a clear plan and the best team that can take Croatia out of the crisis.
We will start the reindustrialization of the country, digitize and increase the share of the ICT sector. We will pay special attention to the development of Croatian agriculture, whose potential is several times greater than what we have today.
By introducing actual tax relief to citizens and companies, we will increase the salaries of workers, and companies’ competitiveness and investment activity.
We will start with the 3X0% and 3×10% formula. income tax rate on all salaries up to HRK 5,000, zero rate for reinvested earnings and zero rate for the purchase of the first real estate. We will reduce VAT for tourism and catering sector to 10% and dividend tax to 10%. Our goal is to provide a stimulating investment environment, because only investments can change the structure of Croatian economy, unfortunately they have never been less in the last 20 years. We will change the economic structure and encourage innovative, creative industries in line with the new European Green Deal.
The lifeblood of our economy are the small and medium-size enterprises, our farmers, family farms. Through joint efforts of fiscal and monetary policy, we will ensure that banks finance entrepreneurship, not just the citizens and the state for which they are confident they will be able to collect. We will provide enough guarantees and money through state financial institutions HBOR and HAMAG. We will significantly reduce the regulatory burden on our craftsmen, micro and small entrepreneurs, which is up to 10 times higher than in large companies. We will abolish a number of parafiscal levies and reduce costs, simplify reporting – simply allow people to breathe and grow, to be successful.
Croatia is the last in the EU in terms of the use of EU funds, and a great challenge awaits us there. It is not enough to contract money, it is important that you actually make something and how much money you reimbursed from the EU, and this government has stood at 30 percent after 7 years.
This means that we have an extremely difficult task ahead of us to invest 70 percent of the remaining money in Croatia in the next 3 years. It is more than 50 billion kuna, which is a huge unused amount of money and a huge development potential for Croatia. This is not just a numbers game, it is our reality as a result of the incompetence of the HDZ government.
We will pay special attention to raising the potential of agricultural production. The figures that say that in 2008 the value of agricultural production was around 3.1 billion euros, and that in 2019 it was only 2.2 billion euros, look incredible. In about a decade, we have lost one third of production, and in the last 20 years the loss has been as much as 50 percent, regardless of the fact that the state has paid incentives worth about 5 billion kuna a year.
Our goal is to increase the value of agricultural production by 200 million kuna each year, in order to substitute huge imports and increase our self-sufficiency.
We will reactivate uncultivated agricultural land and speed up the allocation of state land to our farmers. We will increase vegetable production and milk production. We will encourage livestock farming, with a focus on pig farming.
Croatia must be a country where the public good is not stolen or used for personal gain, where state jobs are not awarded outside the competition to personal and party friends, where people are not employed just because they have a party card.
Like the metastases of a malignant disease, corruption has spread through the fabric of Croatian society. It is not enough to fight against it declaratively, it is necessary to establish independent institutions whose job will be to expose corruption. SDP will re-establish the USKOK office, which was abolished during this HDZ government. We will pass the Law on Examination of the Origin of Property because it is clear that there are too many people in Croatia whose property does not correspond to their income and taxes paid. An important tool in the fight against corruption is both digitalization and digital transformation.
We will digitally transform the country. It is necessary to offer the citizens a range of services that will bring them closer to state and public administration, save time and raise the quality of life.
The economy needs to be provided with a range of tools to increase its competitiveness, automatize processes and reduce administrative burdens. The state and public administration needs to be provided with a digital transformation aimed at raising efficiency and accessibility to citizens and the economy.
We also see digitalization as an opportunity for accelerated development of the ICT sector, which will achieve additional growth in this business. The state should support the participation of as many micro and small enterprises as possible in this line of business, encouraging creativity and ideas in a wide range of entrepreneurship in Croatia.
We expect that savings in the economy will be at least one billion kuna a year. This will increase productivity as it will shift the focus to development of business ideas and projects, rather than to unnecessary administration and reporting. From the revenues from the sale of state property that exceed one billion kuna a year, we will replenish the new Fund for Research and Development, Innovation and Digitization, which will finance creative industries and start-ups.
We aim to increase transparency, predictability and to reduce the uncertainty of planning – increase security and certainty of project realization even with the public sector. Croatia will become an attractive country for investments.
We are determined to carry out a reform of the state administration and local and regional self-government, as well as the entire public service delivery system. It will include the decentralization of powers, tasks, resources and responsibilities from the central government to local and regional self-government units. Simply to make Croatia more economically competitive, but also closer to its citizens.
- Some of your measures are quite unexpected or at least not talked about in this region, part-time work and legalization of the use of medical cannabis. Do you think that this is something that your potential voters will easily accept?
The law on part-time work was made in Germany during the economic crisis of 2008-2009. With the help of our representative in the Bundestag, Croat Josip Juratović, we wanted to implement it in Croatian legislation to support the preservation of jobs. Especially because the whole program is funded by the European SURE assistance program.
With this law, we want to enable the employer in times of crisis to reduce working hours, but not the number of workers, as well as the salary of workers, if they have a smaller scope of work. Thus, workers receive the same salary, and the difference to the full-time salary will be received by the employer from the state through the European SURE program, at most in the amount of the minimum wage.
The key differences of our proposal in relation to previous government subsidies are that the support goes directly to the worker, and it cannot happen that the worker does not get what is approved through the measure. After the termination of the measure the employer must keep the worker for a specific minimum time period, some of the conditions are that the employer cannot pay the profit while the measure is in power and the method of supervision and financial control are defined.
As far as Lex Cannabis is concerned, SDP believes that hemp is a key crop to boost the bio economy. Productivity in all sectors of Croatian bio-economy is only 38% of the EU average, i.e. Croatia annually achieves 13,000 euros of added value per employee in the bio-economy sector, and the EU average is 41,000 euros.
SDP proposes full legalization and liberalization of hemp. The full potential of hemp as a plant is not possible without an integrative approach to the total potential of the plant. All parts of hemp are usable; stem, core, leaves, flowers, seeds and even cellular fluid, and in the world hemp is used in almost all known industries; construction, paper, textile, food, cosmetics, chemical, paints and varnishes, pharmaceutical, automotive, but also in space industry and as an energy source (biomass). Today’s technologies make it possible to produce approximately 25,000 thousand different hemp products.
Today, hemp is used to relieve the symptoms of the following diseases: multiple sclerosis, malignant diseases, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease). Therefore, many countries (UK, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, as well as Canada and Israel) have enabled production.
In Canada and the US, cannabis treatment brings in big profits, similar to Israel. The global market for medical cannabis could be worth $55 billion by 2025, so we see hemp cultivation as a chance for Croatia to become a leader in this part of Europe and take a piece of the big global cake. It is high time for us to change regulations and follow world trends. The result of the legalization of marijuana is the additional development of the tourism sector, the growth of agricultural production and the growth of GDP. In addition to tourism earnings, tax revenues will increase, and the black market and the costs of prosecuting offenders will decrease.