The regular meeting of Croatia's government last week started with a first point on the agenda the report of the European Commission presented on October 10th in Brussels by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. The report was presented to the members of the cabinet by the country's minister of foreign and EU affairs, Ms Vesna Pusic, who practically repeated what she told several Croatian TV stations the evening before - that unlike the spring, when the Commission presented interim results from the monitoring of Croatia's preparation for full fledged membership in the Union as of July 2013 the tasks were 51, now only 10 remained, the implementation of which would not be a problem. Vesna Pusic was tasked by the government to develop an action plan for the remaining tasks. Ms Pusic is also asked to report to the cabinet on the implementation of the plan once a month or, "if necessary more often", says the adopted on Thursday decision of the government.
A coincidence or not but the decision of the government regarding the report also contains 10 points which, however, differ from the European Commission recommendations. In the decision it is said that the Commission assessment for the measures that need to be addressed urgently on the remaining commitments in three negotiating chapters - number 8 "Competition", 23 "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" and 24 "Justice, Freedom and Security" - is accepted with great attention. The government assures that the implementation of these commitments is an absolute priority. Another important priority will be completing the process of restructuring of the shipyard sector as well as the effective management of Croatia's external borders after the accession (when the country will turn into an external border for the EU) and the preparation for an effective membership in Schengen.
The document confirms all the measures the Commission has outlined and commits to ensure they will be implemented in time. As usually, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic spoke philosophically on the issue saying that reading the report one can conclude that it is more than optimistic. He added that the country would be ready with the implementation of the measures whenever it is ready - in July 2012.
Although the report can indeed be perceived as "optimistic", or as we in Bulgaria prefer to say "positive", the presentation came in a difficult period for the country. On the day when the Commission published the enlargement package, the top news in Croatia was another scandal about buying of exams, but this time in the Faculty of Medicine in Zagreb. Moreover, there was information from unofficial sources, quoted by local media, that among those who benefited from the buying of exams were relatives of the country's chief prosecutor Mladen Bajic, who was involved in a severe exchange of accusations with former PM Ivo Sanader, who is currently a defendant in several trials for embezzlement. The prices of the exams were between 500 and 2000 euros. 12 people were arrested in relation to the claims for buying of exams, there are also several students who were banned from continuing their education because of buying of exams, most of all anatomy exams.
As local TV stations commented, in spite of the huge operation known as "Index" in 2008 of the Croatian bureau for fighting corruption USKOK, corruption has reached the Faculty of Medicine. In connection to the the "Index" affair, 9 professors were arrested in the Faculty of Transport Sciences in Zagreb for taking bribes. In the Commission report it is pointed out that the law enforcement bodies are proactive in the fight against corruption and that in general all the legal and institutional conditions are in place to fight it. A problem, however, remains corruption on local level, most of all in terms of public procurement, the document reads.
And while the government was sitting in Zagreb on Thursday, a large protest took place, organised by the four trade unions in the country, which passed through the central part of the city. The number of protesters varied between 3 and 5 thousand people, even more. The protest was against the austerity measures of the government, which is trying to control the rapidly growing public debt and budget deficit. In Budget 2013 more savings measures are envisaged. According to the trade unions, these measures will only deteriorate the situation and will slow down recovery. Croatia is in recession a fifth year in a row after the expectations this year to be the first with positive growth, were not met. The protesters blamed the media as well, as in the words of the president of the association of Croatian trade unions, media had turned into apologists of saving and of the interest of the big capital.
Right after the debate on point one in the government's agenda (the Commission report), Premier Milanovic said with regard to the protests that the situation in the country was serious but not dramatic. He called for understanding everyone in Croatia, including the trade unions and recalled that he and his party (the social democrats) made promises during the pre-election campaign which they intended to keep. "We expect to be trusted at least a little bit", he said. Some decisions are necessary and difficult, he continued and explained that the government was not dealing with measures to save because saving meant to set aside something one had. "Those are not saving measures but fiscal, budgetary, limiting spending measures so that we can ensure that tomorrow will be better", the Croatian premier underscored and the organisers of the protest vowed that this was just the beginning of the discontent.