Constitutional changes at last?
Although overshadowed by far more nefarious constitutional changes in neighboring Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Ivica Račan's government introduced a draft package of constitutional changes on Tuesday. The proposals are presently slated to be debated by the Sabor beginning next week.
According to Račan, the draft package includes elements of reform demanded by both the government and President Stipe Mesić, adding that "I think it is extremely important that both the government and the President of the Republic come to the Sabor with a joint initiative and joint content [on] constitutional changes."
The most important provisions, Račan said, are designed to transform the nation "into a parliamentary democracy with the authority of the president significantly reduced." Both Mesić and Račan have long agreed that the powers of the former's office should be reduced, but have fought publicly over how and to what extent in which areas.
Under this week's proposal, the president would remain head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and would continue to represent the nation abroad.
Despite widespread speculation, the proposal does not call for abolishing the House of Counties, but says that the upper house should be "made stronger and [given] a clearer mandate" in representing regional interests at the national level and working with the House of Representatives on legislation with regional impact.
Some "important acts issued by the president," Račan said, will require the Prime Minister's endorsement and consultation with the speaker of the Sabor.
The proposal also calls for the House of Representatives to elect the President of the Supreme Court and for the government as a whole to exercise a more independent role in making foreign and domestic policies, particularly in the economic and public sectors.
While the president will retains substantial power over defense and foreign policy, the Sabor's authority in these areas is to be expanded, particularly in oversight of the armed forces and the intelligence community.
Meanwhile, Nacional speculated that the changes would not be approved at next week's session, but rather were presented to give MPs something to consider over their summer break. After "some tinkering," Nacional said, the package will be approved in the fall.
All six parties in the coalition government, the weekly said, are largely "on the same page" regarding the package's contents and approval.
Nacional's speculation early in the week was given added weight by reports in the Thursday and Friday editions of Vijesnik and Jutarnji list.
Both papers reported that it was unlikely that the changes would be approved until Račan had decided on an early fall cabinet reshuffling, allowing potential new cabinet members a more direct role in fine-tuning the package.
Jutarnji quoted an anonymous member of the Račan cabinet as saying that Deputy Prime Minister Zeljka Antunović and Foreign Minister Tonino Picula (both SDP) and Minister of Economy Goranko Fižulić and Minister of Transport Alojz Tušek (both HSLS) are likely candidates for reshuffling. (Vijesnik, Jutarnji list, Nacional, HRT, Večernji list)
Group of six to split?
With elections to the Sabor's upper house pending in early 2001, Liberal Party (LS) Vice President Zlatko Kramarić opened the door this week to closer cooperation - and, some say, possible merger - between his Liberals, the Croatian People's Party (HNS) and the Istrian Democratic Congress (IDS).
"I think a strong party of civil and liberal provenance is necessary for the stability of Croatian democracy. Still, if the idea is to be successful, consensus on three areas must be reached. The leaders of the parties have to be on the same page, party memberships have to agree and the public has to be prepared so that it is accepted as a desirable event and not an incident," Kramarić said.
He hinted that HNS President Vesna Pusić, a sitting MP said by many to be an excellent candidate to succeed Prime Minister Ivica Račan, is a strong candidate to lead the trio.
Other parties in the present group of six, including Budiša's Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and the dominant Social Democratic Party (SDP) spoke out against the notion later in the week, stressing that the 2001 elections would be fought by coalitions "similar to those who ran in the 2000 parliamentary elections," Večernji list reported. (Vijesnik, Večernji list, Jutarnji list)
Mesić endorses Chirac proposal
It is not that President Stipe Mesić disapproves of his French counterpart's notion of a meeting between European Union (EU) and former Yugoslav nations - he rather likes the idea, but wishes more guests were invited to the party.
In Rome Tuesday for meetings with Pope John Paul II and Italian officials, Mesić reiterated his support for Jacques Chirac's conference of the former Yugoslavia, but suggested that "countries surrounding the region should also attend the meeting" due to the effects of war and sanctions against Yugoslavia on other regional nations. (HINA)
No vote for Bosnian Croats?
Prime Minister Ivica Račan hinted strongly this week that his government was looking to put an end to Bosnian Croat participation in Croatian elections.
In Copenhagen for a two-day official visit, Račan spoke at the Danish society for foreign affairs, where he said boldly that although he was "speaking for himself" despite an agreement on the matter within the ruling six party coalition, "we will stop that policy."
Bosnian Croats, he said, are "not a diaspora but a native people" who thus have no right to vote in Croatia. Predictably, his comments were met with outrage from the right wing. (HINA, Vecerji list)
"No" to joint former Yugo military corps
Last weekend, local media was abuzz following an apparently unofficial suggestion by Bosnia's Assistant Federal Minister of Defense, Sulejman Budaković, that both Jacques Klein, UN special representative for BiH, and President Mesić had given their approval to the formation of a joint Bosnia, Croatia and, eventually, FR Yugoslavia military corps.
Budaković's proposal foresaw the three nations cooperating in UN peacekeeping efforts around the world.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Goran Rotim said that Croatia was a "full member of PfP [NATO's Partnership for Peace]" and is "interested in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations. Croatian participation in such units is possible with Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, but participation in a joint union with FR Yugoslavia is, at best, an inappropriate idea."
Miroslav Prce, BiH Federal Minister of Defense, later called Budakovic's suggestion "inappropriate." (Vijesnik, Globus)
Johannes de Beaufort Wijnholds, executive director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was in Zagreb this week for meetings with government officials. He noted that "many things are going in the right direction, as economic growth is accelerating and the balance of accounts is not bad.
There is a lot of work ahead, but I am under the impression that the government is dedicated to resolving these problems."
Also in for a visit was Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Mundell, who was attending a conference and waded into the fray over the merits of devaluing the kuna.
He advised modest devaluation and a reduction of inflation from its present seven percent level in order to bring it in-line with the EU average of two to three percent. The kuna, Mundell said, should then be pegged at a fixed exchange rate tied to the euro.
Meanwhile, there seems to be little relief in sight for Croatians hoping for a little relief from the much hated PDV (value added tax). In an exclusive interview with Novi list, Minister of Finance Mato Crkvenac said it would be "largely impossible" for the government to uphold its campaign pledge to reduce the PDV this year or next.
New plans to increase pensions (see last week's News from Croatia) and other increases in public spending, Crkvenac said, make PDV revenues absolutely essential. (Jutarnji list, Vijesnik, Globus, Večernji list)
A spy's holiday, Croatian style
With unemployment possibly hitting 23 percent by the end of this year, Croatia's intelligence agencies seem only to be adding to the problem.
After a forced vacation while Croatian President Stipe Mesić and the government of Prime Minister Ivica Račan negotiated the restructuring of the Croatian Intelligence Service (HIS) and other national security organs, HIS employees were slated to return to work this past Monday.
That morning, however, "several dozen" were kept waiting at the HIS' front gates and, after being refused entry, were told to go home for the day.
Under the restructuring proposal, many of those given an extra day's holiday were to have been transferred to the ministries of foreign affairs, the interior, defence and justice. According to one local commentator, "those departments were reluctant to welcome them, and some have balked at accepting people of their backgrounds."
Djurdja Adlešić, head of the Sabor's Domestic Policy and National Security Committee, told HRT that "It was decided to assign them to the ministries from which many of them had come in the first place."
"Given the fact that they have been privy to [sensitive] information, they cannot end up on the street." (HRT, Jutarnji list)
Minister playing Superman?
Tourist traffic in Croatia last weekend was up 20 percent over the same time last year, and Croatian Tourist Association (HTZ) head Niko Bulić said he expects the entire season to end with a 35 percent increase in volume over 1999.
The Zagreb - Karlovac highway was so overloaded by traffic that an eight kilometer lineup attracted the personal attention of Minister of the Interior Sime Lučin who, despite rushing to the scene last Saturday, was unable to singlehandedly resolve the problem.
The lineup gradually cleared on its own early Sunday, although Lucin has assigned additional traffic cops to the area and banned weekend truck traffic from the motorway.
More than one local commentator spoke derisively of Lučin's decision to play "Superman," although more charitable observers commended the hands-on minister for displaying some personal initiative.
Minister of Transport Alojz Tušek, explaining why he had not, like Lučin, rushed to Karlovac last weekend to help save the day, said that his ministry was doing "everything it could" to improve the situation.
Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granić said Thursday that the reorganization of security and intelligence services is complete. Under the new scheme, four separate intelligence agencies (two civilian and two military) will operate under coordination at the governmental level.
Granić said the reorganization will allow a 2.5 percent cost in savings through reduction of overhead, but was still unable to say exactly how many spies would have to find new homes. (HRT, Jutarnji list)
Patrick FitzPatrick, 8 July 2000
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