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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 28,322 22,421 20,300 61
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 5,350 4,640 4,550 70
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 121 - (27/06/07)

2007 election year
Croatia holds elections to parliament every four years. 2007 is election year; October is the due month.

It is basically a two-horse race, with one of the rivals lacking a jockey until the other day. Increasingly political unknowns are doing well in democratic politics, such as Blair and Putin in their time, now running out for both of them. 

The new opposition figure in Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, at 40 a mere tyro politically, will have his work cut out to topple the incumbent premier, however, who is not only a seasoned hand, but a widely respected figure at home and abroad, Ivo Sanader. 

But the first impressions are positive, 54% backing Milanovic in the polls and his party leading by 28% to 24% over the ruling party (see a profile of him at the end). The public deem him a better politician than Sanader.

The elder statesman versus the novice
Prime Minister and president of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Ivo Sanader, has commented on the election of Zoran Milanovic as president of the opposition's Social Democratic Party (SDP). He said the SDP had got a president and the HDZ respected that fact; but as he had won over Racan in 2003 so he would win over Milanovic in 2007. 

Asked about the HDZ's advantages in relation to the SDP, Sanader said that the advantages were evident and that the government was, at the end of its term, forwarding great projects to be realised, such as today's e-SPIS as proof of determination and the fight against corruption in the judiciary and all other segments of the society.

"We are moving on, we are a political force that has the strength, even at the end of its term, for radical changes in all segments of society, including for the fight with political opponents," Sanader said.

He added that the SDP and its partners had not had that in 2003 and had fought among themselves. "Today we do not know whether the SDP and the Croatian People's Party (HNS) will unite or not, and even if they do we will win over them again," Sanader said.

Asked why he had not congratulated the SDP on the election of its new president, Sanader said that was not democratic practice. "That is their internal choice," Sanader said, stressing that even Angela Merkel had not congratulated Schroeder's successor.

"Let us learn that each party in Croatia has its own policy, chooses its leadership and programme and that has nothing to do with the level of communication between two parties because we will meet in the electoral campaign and oppose each other," he said.

Also, Sanader said that the HDZ had not had an envoy at the HNS convention because it would have been hypocritical to wish success to someone whom they were opposing and against whom they want to win. "We must mature together on that party sphere and on the political scene in Croatia and the HDZ will make its contribution to that," Sanader said.

Asked about the convening of an extraordinary HDZ press conference that SDP's president Zoran Milanovic had assessed was a show of HDZ's fear, Sanader replied that the conference had been called at the request of reporters. "Had we not reacted, everybody would have asked where the HDZ was. We reacted because the SDP is the second largest party in Croatia and we believe it right to react," he said.

The EU beckons at last
The Croatians are hoping that things are going their way at last on the wider European stage. The Slovenes stole a march on them by gaining EU entry three years ago; then the Bulgarians and Romanians did earlier this year.

It is their turn now, they feel, and the Slovenian presidency in the first half of 2008 could not be a better symbolic occasion to expedite it.

In fact German occupancy of the EU presidency right now is a very good omen. The Germans have long been great supporters of Croatia, recognising its independence rather too quickly in 1991 in some people's view, setting off the appalling war with Serbia et al.

Germany Supports Croatia's Quick Entry Into The EU 
Germany strongly supports Croatia's entry into the EU as soon as possible, and welcomes its progress in reforms and integration negotiations. The President of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic and the President of Parliament Ivo Sanader, hosted the President of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert separately on June 6th, who was visiting Croatia.

During the meeting, President Mesic said that bilateral relations between the two countries are improving, adding that Germany is the second largest investor in Croatia, as well as second in economic trade and German tourists are the most numerous visitors to Croatia, it says in the report from the president's office.

Mesic recalled that Germany was one of the first countries to recognize the new realities at the start of the 1990s. Croatia today is a country that is implementing European standards, said president Mesic, and added that the Croatian national interests are the return of all refugees and displaced citizens, for which it is necessary to clear mines from all threatened regions in order to guarantee safety for the people who return, and to stimulate the economy, because that is the only way that prosperity can be ensured.

Lammert stated that Germany, as the country which is currently presiding the EU, is investing great efforts into finding institutional solutions for the functioning of the Union. He added that the European Union is a political community which must have fixed criteria which all must respect.
Sanader talked to Lammert about Croatia's path to full membership in the European Union and NATO, and about the role of Croatia in southeast Europe, reported the Croatian Cabinet.

Germany strongly supports Croatia's entry into the European Union as soon as possible, and welcomes the progress made in reforms and integration negotiations. Germany believes that during the forthcoming EU summit in Brussels, at the end of June, an agreement will be reached between member nations about key questions concerning the constitutional foundations of the Union, it says in the report.

Sanader stressed that Croatia is interested in making quality negotiations, and also for the continuation of its active role in questions which concern the stability and lasting peace in south east Europe. 

NATO praises Croatia's reform progress
Then there is the related matter of NATO. 

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer assured Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader on June 6th that the Alliance is ready to welcome his country as a full member once it has fulfilled the entry conditions. Praising Croatia for its progress in meeting NATO membership criteria, top Alliance officials urged the country to keep up the pace of reform. 

"There was a clear sense from everyone around the table that Croatia has made great progress," the AP quoted Alliance spokesman James Appathurai as saying, following Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's meetings with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the North Atlantic Council, the 26-nation Pact's principal decision-making body. 

Accompanied by Defence Minister Berislav Roncevic, Sanader briefed NATO ambassadors about the implementation of required reforms. He also discussed Croatia's participation in international peace operations, including the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. 

In December, the Croatian Parliament approved a decision clearing the way for an increase in the country's contribution to ISAF from 148 soldiers to up to 200 this year. Next year, up to 100 additional Croatian troops are expected to head to Afghanistan. 

Sanader also told the North Atlantic Council about the recent spurt in public support for NATO membership. In a poll in May by the Croatian branch of the GfK Group, one of the top five market research organisations in the world, 52% out of 1,000 respondents said they backed Croatia's NATO bid, up from 43% in March. 

In another survey, by Croatia's Accent agency between May 21st and 27th, more than 57% of Croats supported joining NATO. The majority of the 1,000 respondents said they believe Croatia would join the Alliance within the next five years and only 3% thought this will never happen. About 80% of those surveyed said NATO membership would benefit the country's economy and security and would boost its position in the international arena. 

All NATO ambassadors "gave clear support to Croatia and positively assessed what we are doing", Croatian news agency HINA quoted Sanader as saying. Their only message was to "continue, keep these ambitions and there will be no problems", he added after the meeting with the North Atlantic Council. 

Croatia has completed the five-year cycle of the Membership Action Plan. The programme, introduced in 1999, offers advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. 

The country's leaders hope that, along with Albania and Macedonia, Croatia will receive a membership invitation during NATO's summit in Bucharest next April. The actual entry process is expected to take up to two years to complete. 

All NATO ambassadors acknowledge the progress Croatia has made and is making, de Hoop Scheffer said. "The central message is hold this pace, remain ambitious when it comes to public support, return of refugees and judicial reform," he added, stressing NATO's readiness to welcome the country as a full member once it has met the entry criteria. 
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The following is a profile of the new man in Croatian politics by BIRN Newsletters:-

Zoran Milanovic: A New Name In Croatian Politics
Zoran Milanovic is the new leader of Croatia's single largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), previously led by the late Ivica Racan. Racan died two months ago after seventeen years at the helm of the Social Democrats.

At a recent party convention, Milanovic, 40, was elected party leader, defeating Zeljka Antunovic, who led the SDP following Racan's resignation this April. Milanovic also defeated Zagreb's powerful mayor Milan Bandic and former Foreign Minister Tonino Picula.

"Milanovic is a man appealing to new SDP voters who are demanding change. He belongs to the new generation of Croat politicians. His political career is not plagued by scandals," said Branko Tusek, a high-ranking SDP official.

Milanovic was born in Zagreb. He graduated from Zagreb University Law School and served with Croatia's Foreign Ministry. In a TV show, 'Sunday at Two', more than 54 per cent of the 65,000 viewers who participated in a telephone poll said they regard Milanovic to be a better politician than Sanader.

A week ahead of Milanovic's election, the Puls polling agency said that some 28.7 per cent of the electorate is backing the SDP, while 24.5 per cent would vote for the ruling HDZ party in the upcoming parliamentary vote scheduled for October. Analysts believe that Milanovic's appearance on the political scene will contribute to the SDP's popularity.

Milanovic is also regarded as an anti-fascist. He recently asserted that former Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito was a more positive politician than former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who led the country to independence from the six-republic Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

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FOREIGN COOPERATION

Slovenia, Croatia boosts cooperation


Currently, the investors and power grid operators in Slovenia and Croatia are negotiating on the construction of a chain of hydroelectric power stations on the lower Sava, Croatia Post reported. 
Slovenian Economy Minister, Andrej Vizjak, said on June 1st that cooperation on the construction of plants HE Brezice, HE Mokrice in Slovenia and HE Podsused in Croatia enjoys political support in Slovenia, so the minister also expects full support from the Croatian side.
Following the first session of the signatories of the Sava Basin Framework agreement, Vizjak said, "This is an ambitious project for the future, which costs a lot of money. I'd like participants in the Sava Basin meeting to be held in Slovenia in 2011 or 2013 to come to Catez by boat on the Sava River." 
The Sava Basin Framework Agreement brings together Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a bid to enhance cooperation in the use of water resources, make the river navigable and to pave the way for sustainable development of the basin. The implementation of the agreement is the responsibility of a joint body called the Sava Commission and its Standing Secretariat as the executive body. The commission is to meet every second year, next time in 2009 in Belgrade. 
On a different note, the minister said that Croatia responded positively to Slovenia's plans to make the Sava river navigable all the way to Brezice, near the Croatian border. At the meeting, Vizjak signed a joint declaration on the Sava, which will serve as a basis to implement the plan of making the river navigable 600 kilometres up from its mouth in Belgrade, as well as enable regional cooperation, economic development and environmental protection of the basin.
For his part, Croatian Transport Minister, Bozidar Kalmeta, announced that by 2011 the Sava would be navigable from Belgrade to Sisak for the whole year, rather than just 250 days a year as now. The Croatian government plans setting up a waterway to Zagreb as well as constructing a channel connecting the Danube and the Sava, a motion which Kalmeta expects to be passed in parliament before this year's general election. 

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FOREIGN TRADE

Croatia seeks more trade with Qatar and South Korea 

Croatia has urged Qatar's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI) to revive a previous deal inked to bolster mutual ties between the private sectors of the two countries and set up a joint business panel to improve bilateral trade.
And, South Korean Foreign Minister, Song Min-soon, and his Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, met on May 25th to discuss ways to enhance their economic relations. Grabar-Kitarovic arrived in Seoul on May 24th for a three-day visit to discuss expanding economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries, Croatia Post reported. 
In his visit to Qatar, a senior Croatian foreign ministry official called on the Treasurer of QCCI, Mohamed Ahmed Tawar Al Kuwari, to discuss ways to boost cooperation between private sector players in their two countries. 
David Gilovic, from the international trade department at the Croatian Foreign Ministry, told Al Kuwari that Croatia (population in 2005: five million) with its capital Zagreb is a major world tourist destination. Last year, the country attracted some 10 million tourists. It boasts a robust construction sector and many construction firms are keen to enter the booming Qatari market, he said. 
Song also asked for Croatia's support in South Korea's bids to host the 2012 World Expo in the city of Yeosu and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in the city of Pyeongchang. For his part, Grabar-Kitarovic revealed the Croatian government's wish that South Korean firms take part in port developments and the privatisation of shipbuilding in the European country. Both sides also exchanged views on various security issues on the Korean Peninsula and in Southeastern Europe. South Korea and Croatia established diplomatic ties in 1992. Croatia's President Stjepan Mesic visited Seoul in April 2006, becoming the first Croatian president to visit South Korea, according to the ministry. 

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TRANSPORT

Highway connecting Slovenia and Croatian coast completed 

The last 20 kilometre leg of a new highway stretching from the Croatian seacoast to the Slovenian border was opened for traffic on May 29, dpa reported. 
The roadway stretches from the Slovenian border 440 kilometres to the coastal city of Split. Travel for the many tourists coming from western Europe to the Croatian resorts along the Adriatic seacoast would be made faster with the new highway. 
The construction of the motorway cost 235 million Euro. Austria's largest construction company Strabag controls 51 percent of the road, while the other 49 percent belongs to Croatia. A remaining 60 kilometres of road from Split to Makarska is expected to be completed over the next several months. Because of the extremely mountainous terrain, almost one-fifth of the highway is made up of tunnels and bridges. The longest tunnel, Mala Kapela, is 5,780 metres long.

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