Andrej

Plenković

Prime Minister of Croatia

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Madam President, first of all congratulations on your election yesterday. Secretary General, thank you for this morning’s very satisfactory meeting. Members of Parliaments, it is an honour for me to be here in Strasbourg, a European capital, and it is an honour for me to address you, honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for this venerable institution, which was established in the aftermath of the Second World War, symbolises more than any other institution the reconciliation between peoples on our continent, peoples who for too long in history tore each other apart.

Above all, however, this institution illustrates the advantages that our nations can derive from co-operation based on shared and fundamental values, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These are values to which my country has long aspired and the advent of which, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, was for Croatia a synonym of our regained independence in 1991, and marked our return to the large European family of democratic nations.

Sadly, the first years of our independence were marred by war. Today, that war is far behind us, but the tragic experience of it has helped us to better grasp the full importance of peace and the values defended by the Council of Europe. That is why today I pay tribute to the founders of this pan-European Organisation. I commend them for the pioneering role that this Organisation has played since 1949 in building Europe, while our continent still lay in ruins.

I also commend all of you who, through your work, continue to make Europe a reference point in terms of democracy and human rights. It is Europe that continues to embody and inspire hope for many men and women around the world whose fundamental rights are trampled over, because those rights are what the Council of Europe stands for, and I thank you for it. That said, we member States of the Council of Europe must all ensure that the standards that we share are implemented unequivocally and everywhere within our States, at the local, regional, national and international levels.

As you are aware, Croatia took up the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers on 18 May. This is the first time that we have held the chairmanship since joining the Council of Europe in 1996. However, before joining the Council of Europe family, Croatia had to meet a long list of commitments and obligations, which led to a far-reaching transformation of our society and greatly contributed to strengthening democratic standards in my country, to the great benefit of all our citizens.

Today the image of Croatia – and the position it now holds – reflects the progress we have achieved in entrenching democratic values within our society. It also reflects the results we have obtained through our tireless efforts to solve a number of specific issues. Croatia is not content simply with implementing principles at national level; we actively promote them at European level. Yesterday you heard our four priorities for our chairmanship: the fight against corruption, the protection of minorities, decentralisation and the promotion of cultural heritage.

The Council of Europe is more important today than ever before, because through its activities it contributed to implementing the many standards it shares with the European Union. Through our active participation in those activities, Croatia has been a living example of the Council of Europe’s transformative power, especially in the light of the efforts made on our path to joining the European Union. I would like to reiterate Croatia’s full support for, and commitment to, the work of the Council of Europe. Its unique role of protecting and promoting the highest European values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – must not be compromised in any circumstances. That is where the primary responsibility of member States lies. We must uphold those fundamental principles in order to preserve the reputation of our Organisation. Croatia is all the more committed to those principles and democratic values, for my fellow citizens have paid a heavy price defending them.

Our Organisation faces major challenges, and against that backdrop Croatia fully supports the need to reform the Council of Europe and define a clear and long-term strategy and outlook. It is extremely important to achieve greater unity by better marrying our efforts to regain our citizens’ trust in our work. The Council of Europe has established an effective monitoring mechanism for human rights standards, democracy and the rule of law. Such monitoring will be of the essence if we are to pinpoint non-compliance and address our recommendations to member States. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we preserve those monitoring mechanisms. Furthermore, the interactions and synergies between the main bodies of the Council of Europe could be improved. I believe that member States are duty-bound to work more actively with the Secretariat and the Parliamentary Assembly in order to make the work of the Council of Europe more effective.

(The speaker continued in English.)

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Convention on Human Rights system – one of our most significant mechanisms – has made a tremendous contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law in Europe. We express our deep commitment to the Convention and the obligations under it, as well as to the right of individual application to the Court as a key feature of the system. Full national implementation of the Convention is a prerequisite for strengthening the Court’s subsidiary role. We, as the States party to the Convention, have agreed to abide by the Court’s judgments. Moreover, judgments being binding and executed is pivotal to the credibility of the Organisation. I strongly believe that there is no other way to reinforce our judicial system’s efficiency.

We need to work jointly to ensure that we have a shared understanding of the law and its implementation. There should be a constructive and continuous dialogue among States, and between national and European levels, respecting the independence of the Court and the binding character of its judgments. The reform process has led to significant developments and improvements in the Convention system. Croatia welcomes the progress made so far and recognises the need for further reforms to strengthen the authority of the Court, its case law and its judges; those are central challenges ahead of us. I would like to express my satisfaction that the State parties express their commitment to undertake efforts towards setting up a system for addressing Convention violations promptly and effectively.

With regard to the caseload, which is one of the major challenges facing the Convention system, it is crucially important that we introduce measures aimed at reducing the backlog. That could be done by improving the Court’s working methods and co-operation of all the actors involved, and by securing sufficient funds. It is of the utmost importance that all member States meet their obligations as members of the Organisation, including the financial obligations. It is our right and duty to respond appropriately to cases of non-compliance. Otherwise the Organisation will lose credibility and public trust, which holds to these principles.

Croatia welcomes the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly is seeking to restore its credibility, and that it has taken concrete actions to establish an environment of zero tolerance of corruption of any type. Corruption is a socially unacceptable phenomenon that directly jeopardises human rights, destroys morale and endangers the stability and economic achievement of the State – and in this case, the credibility of the Parliamentary Assembly and of the Council of Europe in general. It is therefore necessary to build awareness of the need continuously to monitor the efficiency of specific solutions. The fight against corruption is strongly supported by Croatia as a fundamental prerequisite for the development of an open, democratic and advancing society.

That is why we decided to address this negative phenomenon and define the fight against corruption as one of the key priorities of our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. In co-operation with the Group of States against corruption – GRECO – we are organising a ministerial conference, to be called “Strengthening transparency and responsibility aimed at prevention of corruption”, which will be held in Croatia in October. Its aim will be to highlight the importance of better co-operation and combined efforts between relevance national anti-corruption bodies in the fight against this especially widespread phenomenon.

Let me share with you a few words about the Croatian Parliament’s recent ratification of the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention. We have joined the group of 30 countries that have already acceded to that important international instrument. The lesson we have learnt is that this noble convention, with its important goal of protecting women and children, has been put in the context of a wider ideological debate that completely derails the public debate about the issue at member State level. Croatia has endured and persevered in ratifying the convention, especially under the leadership of my government, and we have done so in the full conviction that we are doing a good thing for our society, and for the protection of women against violence.

However, the entire Organisation should find a common solution to clarify what the convention is about. It is useful to neither the Organisation nor the convention’s noble goals to have an amalgam of debates that contribute to divisions in society, with the focus and the spotlight on issues that are unrelated to the substance. I therefore appeal to you, Madam President, the Secretary General and my colleagues who will lead the Committee of Ministers, to use our recent experience in Croatia as a model of how not only to draft a solid interpretative statement but to clarify as an Organisation the actual objectives of the convention. I will gladly share that experience with all those who plan to embark on the ratification process.

Let me say a few words about the countries that neighbour Croatia, our friends from south-east Europe. Many of you are present here representing your parliaments. As was said clearly by Ms Maury Pasquier, we, the most recent member of the European Union – still with fresh experience of European Union accession – would like to use the forum of the Council of Europe as another opportunity to support our neighbours in their reform processes and efforts.

We welcome the recent European Commission report on the countries of the western Balkans. We supported the Bulgarian European Union presidency in organising the summit of the European Union and western Balkans countries in Sofia in May. I committed to organise another Zagreb Summit, because the one that took place 18 years ago, back in 2000, opened up a European perspective for all the countries of south-east Europe. In 2020, during our presidency of the European Union, we shall carry that out in the conviction that such a conference should be periodic, so as to keep the issue of enlargement and those countries on the agenda of European leaders.

We welcome the recent agreement between our friends in Skopje and in Athens on the Macedonia name issue. We hope that it will benefit our friends in being able to open negotiations for European Union accession, and that it will encourage NATO members to give the invitation to join NATO. In our view, that has been long overdue and long deserved.

We put particular focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina, which deserves the attention of the entire international community given its history and the responsibility of all of us to support the country’s European reform agenda, especially because of the cohesive nature of the European integration process and its role as a generator of prosperity and reform. From that point of view, we expect further progress after the October elections. We shall take a similar stance vis-à-vis all the countries of the region, in good faith and as a good neighbour.

I take this opportunity to greet my friends from Ukraine, a country I have held close to my heart since my time as a member of the European Parliament. We shall support your territorial integrity and your efforts with your European-orientated reforms. I therefore very much welcome tomorrow’s conference in support of your efforts, which will take place in Denmark.

To say a few words on an issue critical to the European continent – illegal migration – we all know how much the big migration and refugee crisis impacted on European politics and the national politics of our member States. During the 2015 and 2016 crisis, refugees arrived by a variety of routes. Whether those are western, central or eastern Mediterranean, this item will remain on our political agenda for many years to come. Given the demographic trends of the countries of Africa, the Middle East and further afield, their poverty, instability, wars and other issues can only lead large parts of their populations to flee their homes and to look for a better future, many in the countries of Europe.

We all need to look at that jointly, because only a European solution will bring a positive result. We need to be able to share the burden of responsibility and solidarity adequately, but at the same time to be persistent about forging partnerships with non-European countries so as to assist them in alleviating the pressures and solving the problem outside the borders of the European home.

Another agenda item is to protect the external borders. My country has two immediate European objectives: to join the Schengen zone, the criteria for which we are fulfilling day by day; and to join the eurozone. We want a non-porous and respected external border for the European Union, and to find a common solution to the varied legislation on the internal issues of migration through revision of the Dublin Regulation.

The process has had ramifications at the national level – the rise of populism, leading to criticism of the European project and of what has been built so carefully over the past 70 years – and we should all learn the lessons and find strength, devising the right policies that can be supported by our people and citizens. In that way we can regain confidence in the ability of the European institutions to deliver solutions and not fall into the simplistic trap of populism, with the change in the tone of rhetoric that has been clear over the past three years.

(The speaker continued in French.)

In conclusion, since the mid-1990s the Council of Europe has played a key role for Croatia in helping us to achieve European integration. I hope, too, that we can do the same for other countries, helping them along this way. As it was for Croatia, European integration is the best possible incentive for the implementation of economic and political reforms, and those are synonymous with accelerated development and political stability, which are preconditions for prosperity. The first condition necessary to achieving that, however, is the strengthening of democratic values, the rule of law and human rights, in which the Council of Europe is invaluable.

I take this opportunity to assure you all of Croatia’s full support for the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, both now and in the future. More specifically, we support the Council of Europe’s work in general. The Croatian Parliament has already had the opportunity to host some of you during meetings of the permanent committees, and later this year a conference dedicated to security in the Mediterranean will take place in Dubrovnik. That will be an opportunity for many of you to become better acquainted with my country and to see how firmly Croatia stands behind the values and goals of this Organisation, which is the most mature and venerable one involved in building Europe.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Prime Minister, for your address, which was of great interest to the members of our Assembly. Some of our colleagues wish to ask you a question. I remind them that a question may be no longer than 30 seconds, and it should be a question and not a speech. We shall start with the spokespersons of the political groups.

Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania), Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party

Prime Minister, it is great to see you here. You are a leading reformer in your region and you have a brilliant record as a human rights defender in the European Parliament and other European institutions. It is fantastic to have you and your colleagues in the Croatian delegation here. I would simply like to ask you how we will fight radicalisation in Europe and the erosion of our values – erosion that, as you said, has occurred in the past 70 years as the result of attacks, which from time to time have been sponsored by non-democratic countries, on our classical system of values and party politics.

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you very much, Mr Zingeris – my dear, long-standing friend – for your question. I tried to address it pre-emptively in my speech by mentioning the need for us to be fully aware of the consequences of the various global developments that affect Europe, our national policies and the mood of our electorates. It is the responsibility of every national government and political party, but also of multilateral organisations, to stand behind the values and policies that created Europe as a peace project that can be resilient to the various pressures, visible and invisible – you know what I am referring to – on political parties and national governments. My agenda in Croatia is very clear: to strengthen reasonable, solid, pro-European, mainstream-oriented parties. I have not seen that the alternatives offer any sensible or viable solutions, so I will stick to that agenda with full conviction.

Ms GURMAI (Hungary), Spokesperson for the Socialist Group

Prime Minister, thank you for ratifying the Istanbul Convention. Croatia is a new member State of the European Union and you are a passionate pro-European. How can you transfer your knowledge and experience to the countries of the western Balkans to promote their accession? During your presidency, how do you intend to remind candidates and members that constantly cross the red line without being reprimanded, even by their friends, of the values of the European Union?

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you very much for the question, Ms Gurmai. I appreciate your comment about the convention – I would do it again if I had the opportunity.

As the newest member of the European Union, we have been offering our neighbours our experience, our knowhow, the knowledge of our experts and our knowledge of the political and technical processes for many years. Several Croatian experts have been involved in each of those countries – even our foreign minister was part of a consortium of advisers in Serbia – but what we do at the level of the European institutions is also important. We seek to create a positive and conducive environment, respect the criteria and support candidates to fulfil them, but at the same time we act as a strong advocate of our neighbours, because we feel that their European perspective guarantees the betterment of our own situation.

Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom), Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group

Prime Minister, what plans do you have to assist your neighbouring States with their candidatures for European Union membership, to encourage bilateral projects to improve the business environment in the region, and – in Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere as relevant – to help to reduce corruption while supporting necessary political and legal reforms?

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you, Lord Dundee, for those questions. I addressed the first extensively in my previous answer, but that is a consistent policy of the Croatian Government. We follow it up, and we will continue to do everything that it is normal for a neighbour to do.

On creating a more conducive business environment in the region, one of the key lessons we learned was about the importance of the connectivity agenda and the policy of enabling non-members to adapt more quickly to the financial and economic aspects of the European Union – especially economic governance. You need to be aware that the day after you become a member, you get into the European semester, the excessive deficit procedure and the macroeconomic imbalance procedure. You need to be aware of the real economic and financial pressures of membership. Countries that are negotiating membership are perhaps not as aware of that as they should be.

GRECO has an important role in the fight against corruption, whether that is in Bosnia and Herzegovina or in other countries. I believe that the part of the Council of Europe’s rule of law work that is dedicated to the fight against corruption should be further used and instrumentalised at national level. We should all try to do more to alleviate the negative perception that sometimes exists about the countries of south-eastern Europe. Economic operators, whether domestic or foreign, should feel at ease in the sense that they can see a credible and reliable legal and tax system, transparent public procurement policies, and an efficient and speedy judicial system. Otherwise, they will decide to invest in other countries. All that might sound easy when you say it in the order in which I have just said it, but it certainly is not in practice. Every negative comment makes it more difficult to attract other investors. I think everyone is aware that being competitive and attractive for foreign investment requires exactly such an approach.

Ms RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ (Spain), Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (interpretation)

Prime Minister, last June the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Croatian authorities had violated the right to family of a victim of gender-based violence. Not only was the aggressor not prosecuted, but it was said that the victim should have defended herself. Croatia is supposed to have ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, but what measures will you take to protect the freedoms and rights of women in Croatia, and when?

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

Thank you for your question. The Croatian legal system protects all the victims of crimes equally, no matter what their gender. Our ratification of the Convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence sends a clear signal of the government’s determination to establish how to strengthen our legislative framework and institutional capability, what budgetary means are used to do that, and how to effectively control the implementation of our national system. When it comes to the efficiency of courts and the consistency of judgments, our supreme court has a specific role in streamlining the doctrine and practice of courts at lower levels. As I said in my speech, the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is one of the cornerstones of the credibility of this Organisation, so it is the responsibility of all member States, including Croatia, to implement them fully.

Mr HUNKO (Germany), Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left (interpretation)

Prime Minister, Croatia has the chairmanship of the Council of Europe and will shortly take on the presidency of the European Union. The European Union has not yet acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2014, the process for doing so came to a grinding halt. Will your chairmanship of the Council of Europe or your future presidency of the European Union offer any possibility of revitalising the process? I hope that it will be a wonderful opportunity. It is a real shame that the European Union has not yet acceded to the Convention.

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

I am fully aware of the process, which is of many years’ standing, of European Union accession to the Convention. The institutional exercise in the European Union has been affected by the judgment of the Luxembourg court. That is, as I understand it, part of the reason why the process has slowed down a bit. The matter will certainly be on the agenda of the presidencies of the Council of the European Union – the presidency is currently Bulgarian, and it will shortly pass to Austria and later to Croatia. Croatia’s position is that the process should be completed, and we have advocated for that many times in all the bodies of the European Union when the matter has been on the agenda. We should continue to foster it as an item of priority.

Ms FILIPOVSKI (Serbia), Spokesperson for the Free Democrats Group

According to international law and the Croatian constitution, agreements ratified in Parliament are legally binding. That includes the Vienna agreement on succession. Are you aware, Mr Plenković, that tens of thousands of persecuted and displaced Serbs from Croatia are still not eligible for pensions for their employment before 1991, because of the unilateral action of the Croatian pensions fund? What is your government’s plan for resolving the pension issues of the 15 000 retired people who remain unpaid?

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

As far as I can remember, the issue has been addressed in a European Court of Human Rights judgment and by the International Labour Organization. I think that Croatia has fulfilled its obligations, and those international forums have already resolved the matter.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

This brings us to the general speakers’ list. Would you agree, Prime Minister, to our taking two or three questions together, after which I will give you the floor? Thank you; we shall do that.

Mr ARIEV (Ukraine)

Prime Minister, we are in a special situation in the Council of Europe when a top official of the Organisation does not force the Russian Federation to meet the obligations that it agreed to when it entered the Council of Europe, but instead tries to convince the Parliamentary Assembly to give in to the Russian Federation when faced with financial blackmail from the Russian side. What is your opinion on the possible consequences?

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom)

After the recent attack on two Russians in the UK, Croatia expelled a low-ranking Russian diplomat. I thank you for that gesture, but I ask you how meaningful you think it was and how it has affected your relationship with Russia.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova)

Croatia is the last country that benefited from European Union enlargement. You already touched on the potential accession to the European Union of the western Balkan countries, including Macedonia. I am glad about that, because I am a Council of Europe co-rapporteur for Macedonia. Let me be a bit selfish and ask what you think of the European prospects for eastern European countries, especially the Eastern Partnership – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

The first two questions are interlinked; they both deal with the relationship with Russia. I am fully aware of the situation regarding Russian participation in the Parliamentary Assembly since 2014 and the war in Ukraine. I believe that the Secretary General’s recent visit to Moscow was an attempt to address the issue and work out how to go further, especially given the financial ramifications of Russia’s decision not to contribute to the Council of Europe’s budget. We should also look at the causes of the problem. Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts have been reintegrated and the situation in Crimea has not, in practice, altered much. We should look at the situation from a comprehensive point of view, which includes respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

We expressed solidarity with the United Kingdom Government after a thorough presentation of the case by Prime Minister May during the European Council. We considered our options and we sent a strong signal that the use of a nerve agent – such a thing has not been seen for many years – is simply not permissible. Such actions required us to make a gesture of solidarity and send a strong message. I do not believe that that has altered our relationship with the Russian Federation much, because it was a joint European response. The key point is that we should prevent any future such actions.

When it comes to the European perspective for Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and other countries in the eastern neighbourhood, the new framework and policy devised two years ago by the Commission – the neighbourhood policy, the partnership agreements and the implementation of the association agreements – are a step in the right direction. They offer a gradual acceleration along the path towards the European Union and provide guidance on how to conduct the reform agenda. The enlargement process concerning the countries of south-eastern Europe is not going at the pace at which the countries would like it to, and the situation is similar for this process. I think, however, that if the countries receive encouragement to persist in fulfilling the criteria, once the internal conditions are right in the Union, progress will eventually be achieved. Nobody has a crystal ball to enable them to speculate about dates, and I would definitely refrain from doing so in view of our own experience over the last 27 years.

Mr ŠEŠELJ (Serbia)

It was my understanding that the purpose of the Council of Europe was democracy, human rights, the rule of law and anti-fascism, but we have before us a man who glorifies Jasenovac, a concentration camp for 70 000 Serbs, Jews and Roma, and who glorifies Bleiburg, the leader of a neo-Nazi regime at the heart of Europe where Serbs are second-class citizens, and the leader of a political party whose main ideology is ethnic cleansing. My question is –

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

I am sorry, I must cut you off. You have to respect our Code of Conduct, which means you cannot insult guests to our Assembly. I appeal to you to please change your tone. Thank you for taking account of my comment, otherwise I shall have to ask you leave the Chamber. I call Mr Vareikis.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

My question concerns Croatia’s relations with neighbouring countries. For years I was the rapporteur for the Council of Europe on Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian community in that country. There are many people there who have Croatian passports and are citizens of your country. How do you see the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Will you support its integration into European structures? How do you see the future of the Croatian community in that country?

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain) (interpretation)

I have a couple of questions. I think you have been an excellent example in showing how you can recover democracy in accordance with the Council of Europe’s values, and in how you have integrated within Europe. Ours is an Organisation in which all States are viable, and this short question is related to a pan-European dialogue: how will you, as Prime Minister of your country, deal with the issue of fake news? We know there have been issues of corruption, but we have also seen various other campaigns and I want to know how you will deal with those.

Ms CHRISTOFFERSON (Norway)

Mr Prime Minister, I congratulate Croatia on the ratification in April of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, I noticed that a lot of people took to the streets in protest against that ratification. How does the Croatian Government plan to provide popular support for the implementation of the convention?

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

First I shall address the comments of the deputy from Serbia, Mr Šešelj. You are a living example of the proverb “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” You represent a political party whose programme and statutes – this is something that all Members should know – have the clear agenda of promoting greater Serbia, which would involve the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Even though you are not responsible for his acts, it was precisely because of your father, a war criminal convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, that we had the tragedy that we did in the 1990s. It was because of the policies of Slobodan Milošević that my country suffered, we had 15 000 dead and we received $37 billion of war damages. We are fed up with your policy of trying to disseminate false information. This was an example of fake news, to refer to the question that Mr Xuclà just asked, and of trying to portray Croatia in a negative manner. That is what you have been doing consistently. You may laugh but you will always get a firm answer from a country that is democratic, European-oriented and very much against the policies that led to tens of thousands dead; which led to tragedies for Croatia, where I am Prime Minister, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and, before that, Slovenia; and which ultimately led to tragedy for your own country. The fact that you as a party recently orchestrated a similar incident in the Serbian National Assembly during the visit of the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament represents a consistent policy. Despite you, though, we are here to forge good, normal neighbourly relations, address the issues of the past with Serbia, look forward with those who want to look forward and say clearly who was who in the 1990s—and we know who was who. You were the aggressor and we were the victim. With regard to what you said, if you want to know, I personally was at Jasenovac this year and last year. I am as far as could be imagined from what you have just said, and the policy of the Croatian Government vis-à-vis the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century is clear and will remain so in condemning what is supposed to be condemned.

To the gentleman who asked about Bosnia and Herzegovina, I say we will of course support that country in its reform efforts and its European efforts. We will not let Bosnia and Herzegovina somehow fall between two chairs. There is a historical responsibility on all of us to help that country function and to make its system of constitutional architecture just and efficient, with all the three constituent peoples being equal. We have done a great deal so far, including the preparation of the atmosphere in the European Union for its formal application for membership, which happened in 2016. I see Davor, who together with me helped our friends from Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve that objective. Now we will help them to provide the right answers on the questionnaire so that when the avis comes from the Commission it will be in favour of further steps towards EU integration.

The fake news issue is something that we are all faced with. There is a dossier on the agenda on the number of economic and political dossiers that we have seen in the first two years of our mandate. It is a global phenomenon that requires a joint European response, including from the Council of Europe and the European Union. We need mechanisms that can make triage easier for citizens and voters of what is right and wrong – that is, better regulation of communication on the Internet, because that is the key. Unfortunately the Internet, for all its positive sides, the benefits that it brings and the knowledge that we can all have access to, has elements that are uncontrolled, in the sense of whether they are verified to be true or false, and therefore are often used for manipulation, including political manipulation. This is something that we should be working together to prevent.

When it comes to public support for the Istanbul Convention, our President has signed the instrument of ratification and our ambassador has deposited it, so the convention will enter into force for Croatia in October. I think the public are becoming more aware of its consequences for improving many aspects of the legal system, especially regarding certain pieces of legislation such as the criminal law but also in building and strengthening the institutions. We have adequate funds allocated in the budget, and therefore I believe we will manage to use the positive aspects of the convention to erase the negative phenomenon of violence, which unfortunately exists in my country just as it does everywhere else. I read and perceive this as another instrument that will help us to address the issue, and information and a public campaign from the Ministry of the Family, which our ratification law determined as the ministry responsible, will play the leading role in that exercise.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

I suggest that we take one final question because time is getting on. I give the floor to Ms Aleksandra Tomić from Serbia.

Ms Aleksandra TOMIĆ (Serbia)

I call on Mr Plenković to please explain something, because that was not an answer for Serbians. You have many open questions in the ECRI report on Serbia. We want to know more about the constitutional law on the rights of national minorities and when it will be presented to the public for consideration. The participation of many Serbian minorities is higher than 5% in 10 counties, and 15% in the 31 cities in Serbia.

Mr Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia

It is important that the Parliamentary Assembly is aware that Croatia is a country whose electoral system – its constitutional architecture – has eight fixed seats for representatives of national minorities in its parliament. It is a relatively small parliament, with 151 members, and of the eight representatives of minorities three are Serbian. Plus, to date, the Serbian party, SDSS, is part of the governing coalition of my parliamentary majority. We co-operate in an excellent manner.

We have a special part of the programme that is called the programme and the plan for national minorities, which we agreed 20 months ago when we started in government. We have envisaged substantial funds for operational programmes when it comes to national minorities. Serbian representatives are included in local and regional governments ex lege; even where they are not elected they are included ex lege, as deputy prefects, deputy mayors or local councillors. We are creating a tolerant and conducive atmosphere, in which all minorities feel good. If they did not, they would not support my government, I can tell you that. They also feel good in Croatian society.

It is exactly our policy that the higher the level of national minorities protection in Croatia, the greater and easier the protection of the Croatian minorities in our neighbouring countries. This is the policy of inclusion; this is the policy of tolerance; this is the policy of our operational programmes, on which we continually have consultations and have seen improvements. We would like a similar stance to be taken vis-à-vis the Croatian minority in Serbia. That was the subject of our talks during your President’s visit to Zagreb a few months ago and it will continue to be at item at the level of our diplomatic commissions. Every possible suggestion or piece of advice made by international institutions will be duly taken into account.

The PRESIDENT (interpretation)

Thank you, Prime Minister, and thank you all for a very interesting exchange of views. Prime Minister, you have highlighted a number of important issues. You have talked about unity and reconciliation, and I think that those are things that should mark our exchanges. That is something on which we very much agree. You have highlighted different issues, including combating corruption, which is also one of our flagship actions. I am very pleased to be able to assure you that our members will be supporting you and will co-operate more, so that every measure you take will be more effective. You have the total support of the Assembly regarding those priorities. Thank you very much.

That brings me to the end of the questions to Andrej Plenković, the Prime Minister of Croatia.