Presidential candidates talk defence, NATO, Palestine, presidential powers

Presidential candidates Ivo Josipovic, nominated by the ruling Social Democratic Party, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, nominated by the opposition Croatian Democratic Union, Milan Kujundzic of the Alliance for Croatia and Ivan Vilibor Sincic of the Human Barrier are agreed that the president’s current constitutional powers are sufficient and are against the idea to elect the president in parliament, but are divided as to Croatia’s recognition of Palestine, Croatia’s role in NATO’s peace missions, and the direction in which the Armed Forces should develop. Hina sent the candidates the same questions, to which they replied in writing.

Grabar-Kitarovic and Kujundzic are concerned about the increasingly lower budgetary outlays for defence.

“It’s not just about a decreasing budget, but about defining the broader role of the Croatian Armed Forces in the overall development of the country and the preservation of the Croatian identity, which is not being worked out or set as a basis for their modernisation,” Grabar-Kitarovic says in response to the question if she shares the concern that the continued decrease in outlays for the army would undermine its combat readiness.

She says Croatia has top military professionals but that they must be appropriately equipped. “Regardless of NATO membership, the Croatian Armed Forces and police must be the primary guarantor of peace, security and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia.”

Kujundzic says the Armed Forces have been intentionally weakened during Josipovic’s incumbent presidential term and under his predecessor Stjepan Mesic. “It’s necessary to depoliticise the Armed Forces and return to the system the numerous good people who were driven out for political reasons.”

Josipovic says that, despite plans to increase the defence budget, one must take into account the economic situation and the budget’s possibilities. He believes the readiness of the military is such that the defence of Croatia would not be brought into question.

Sincic says it is irrelevant to talk about deep changes in the Armed Forces without strong economic development. He believes the more than HRK 2 billion invested in NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo has brought Croatia nothing but further borrowing. “I will strongly push for withdrawing all troops and redirecting budgetary funds into other, much more essential sectors and projects.”

As for the cost-effectiveness of Croatia’s participation in international peace missions, Grabar-Kitarovic says “well-invested money is money which always returns through direct or indirect profit. Croatia has not valorised the participation of the Croatian army in NATO Missions, other than increased security on which it didn’t have to spend.”

She says military systems in all developed countries are not only the basis of their security but also their development. “This is not the case in Croatia because the Croatian army is predominantly seen as a burden to society,” she says, adding that she will restore dignity to the defence system and put it in the function of Croatian society and economy.

Josipovic and Kujundzic fully support Croatia’s participation in international peace missions. Josipovic says investing in the establishment and maintenance of peace around the world is well-invested money. “NATO membership entails security, but also the commitment to financially participate in the common policy.” Kujundzic says “peace has no price.”

Asked if Croatia should recognise Palestine despite Israel’s opposition and if it should wait for other European Union member states to do so, Josipovic says “this will eventually happen… Just as Palestine rightfully expects to become a state, Israel rightfully expects to be recognised by Palestine and the prerequisites for lasting peace to be created. Acknowledging the overall situation in Israel-Palestine relations, we in Croatia are for an independent Palestinian state. We accept the policy of two states. But when this will happen is another matter. It’s important to arrive at a clear and indisputable mutual recognition through negotiations.” Josipovic hopes the conditions for bringing to life the policy of two states and the recognition of Palestine will occur soon.

Grabar-Kitarovic also believes certain prerequisites need to be met for the recognition of Palestine. “I advocate the position of two states and peace for Israel and, in the current circumstances, for the Palestinians too. Any military or terrorist activity must stop.”

Kujundzic believes Croatia should consult with the other EU member states about the recognition of Palestine. “I believe Palestine will very soon be recognised by most states in the world, including Croatia, and Israel will recognise it too when the Palestinians clearly renounce terrorism as a means of achieving their national goals.”

Sincic says that, if elected president, he will do everything so that Croatia officially recognises Palestine as a state. “As long as Croatia is an independent state and a subject of international law, it has the duty to recognise any state created by the will of the people.”

As for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the EU, Josipovic and Grabar-Kitarovic believe that meeting the membership requirements is in BiH’s interest. Kujundzic pushes for an “accelerated accession,” saying this is in the interest of both Croatia and the EU, and that the Croats in BiH are not emigrants but a constituent people.

Grabar-Kitarovic says the swiftest and simplest accession of BiH to the EU is a strategic interest for Croatia and Bosnian Croats, and that meeting all the criteria is in BiH’s interest. She says one of the prerequisites is the upgrading of the Dayton peace agreement so that Bosnian Croats can achieve equality.

Josipovic says Croatia carried out many reforms, especially because of its EU accession negotiations, and that this has made it more equitable than five years ago.

Sincic, on the other hand, believes that BiH’s EU accession would not stabilise the political and economic relations in the country, saying that Croatia is proof that “EU accession is in no correlation to any stabilisation. On the contrary, over the past year we have regressed economically too.” He says BiH must resolve its internal problems by itself and that its citizens should realise “that their political elites are their biggest enemies.”

As for ideas of a third entity in BiH, Josipovic says he supports “everything the three constituent peoples in the friendly BiH agree on” and that, given the fundamental acts on which BiH rests, he expects an agreement within BiH on equality.

Grabar-Kitarovic too says she will support any agreement on BiH’s organisation that is advocated by the Croat people in agreement with the other two peoples (Bosniaks and Serbs). If such an agreement is not possible, the international community should help, in which Croatia should use its international position and EU and NATO membership, she says.

Sincic says he would support a third entity if Bosnian Croats believe it would guarantee the respect of all constitutional rights. Kujundzic believes a third entity is not a solution but “the last resort.”

Sincic agrees with Croatian Justice Minister Orsat Miljenic that Croatia should make Serbia’s EU accession conditional on war crimes trials against high-ranked officials in the former Yugoslav army (JNA). “Everything must be done so that Serbia, as well as other countries, prosecute or extradite wanted persons. Otherwise one should block the negotiations until these issues are solved.” He says Croatia must see to its national interests, such as “the prosecution of war crimes, dealing with the issue of missing persons and border issues,” rather than the EU’s possible interest in Serbia’s accession.

Grabar-Kitarovic says she is not for raising the criteria for any country but that all EU membership candidates must meet the criteria that Croatia mt. “The JNA carried out a military aggression against Croatia… and the commanders responsible for the war crimes are unavailable to the Croatian judiciary,” she says, adding that on its EU path Serbia “should shed light on and legally solve all crimes committed on Croatia’s territory.”

Josipovic says Croatia had a demanding EU membership path. “We won’t set obstacles to anyone, but we will insist that acceding countries establish the standards that apply in the EU… The rule of law, which entails responsibility for war crimes, the fight against corruption and a high level of democracy are standards which Croatia, as a member of the European family, won’t give up.”

Kujundzic says Croatia should ask Serbia to solve all outstanding issues, including war crimes and war damages, before joining the EU. “Serbia must know that it will have to meet all those democratic standards that Croatia met if it really wants to enter the EU.”

The presidential candidates agree that the current presidential powers are sufficient, but Josipovic believes it is necessary to define more clearly those referring to defence, national security and foreign policy and to better regulate the relations between state bodies and the president’s position in a state of emergency. He also believes the president should be able to veto unconstitutional laws.

Kujundzic says that in principle he is against the presidential veto and that the president should have the obligation to launch the constitutional re-examination of controversial laws.

He, Sincic and Grabar-Kitarovic have criticised Josipovic and his predecessor Mesic for not using the powers the president has under the Constitution. Kujundzic says the president should be able to convene government sessions, call referendums, and move bills and initiatives.

Sincic says the president already has the power to send to the Constitutional Court a law which he considers against the Constitution before signing it.

Grabar-Kitarovic is against introducing a presidential veto on parliamentary acts, saying this would narrow parliament’s powers and undermine the foundations of democracy.

The candidates are against the election of the president in parliament. Josipovic says that if such an initiative appears in parliament, he will oppose it by calling a referendum.

Grabar-Kitarovic, Sincic and Kujundzic believe it is still possible to abuse the intelligence services in dealing with political opponents.

Sincic says “the involvement of secret services in political showdowns is unquestionable and that’s why I advocate a thorough personnel reconstruction in the intelligence system.”

Says Kujundzic, “In Croatia, institutions are often politicised and abused for political ends… The security and intelligence capacities must certainly also be used in the fight against organised crime and corruption.”

Grabar-Kitarovic says the Security and Intelligence Agency has not met its fundamental task, failing to set up a system of comprehensive homeland security or adopt a national security strategy.

Josipovic concedes that abuse of any system is always possible but that “we are doing everything so that there is none, or as little as possible.”