Croatia gets third government led by pro-EU PM Plenkovic

Croatia holds parliamentary election

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The Croatian parliament on Friday approved a government dominated by the conservative pro-European HDZ party, led by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, marking his third term in the job following a parliamentary election last month.

The long-ruling HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), which led the NATO member country of 3.8 million people to join the EU's Schengen free travel area and the euro zone last year, formed a coalition with the far-right Homeland Movement (DF). Homeland Movement will have three ministers in the 18-member government.

"We want successful, vital, just, sustainable and sovereign Croatia," Plenkovic told lawmakers presenting the government programme. Of 141 present MPs, 79 voted for and 61 against the government, with one abstention.

Anti-immigrant DF has campaigned on a platform of defending traditional family values and against allowing the minority Serb party to join any future coalition, raising fears that the new cabinet will be oriented more to the right.

But under a coalition agreement between the two parties, the HDZ will keep its ministers of internal affairs and culture, which means that policies in key sectors concerning migrant policy and minority rights will not change, analysts say.

"It is obvious that Prime Minister Plenkovic will find the way to continue to lead centrist policies focused on the EU," said political analyst Davor Gjenero. "I think there will be no major change of public policies. Croatia remains stable as the state advocating more Europe."

DF, which won 14 seats, emerged as a king-maker after the vote in which HDZ won 61 seats in the 151-seat parliament, well ahead of the 42 won by main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its allies but short of the 76 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority.

Minority parties which were HDZ allies previously supported the government, with the exception of the Serb minority party SDSS which DF insisted should be excluded from any future government.

DF, which entered the government for the first time, will head the agriculture ministry, a new ministry of demography and part of the economy ministry which was split in two departments. The HDZ has kept ministers from the previous government, bringing in only one new face.

"It very much looks like a continuity government, both in terms of its composition and policy priorities, although a slight shift to the right is possible in some areas," said Andrius Tursa, the advisor for Central and Eastern Europe at the advisory firm Teneo.

"In foreign policy, an HDZ-led government would maintain a strong pro-Western, pro-Ukraine stance," Tursa said, adding that the greatest challenge for the new government will be to tackle corruption, which negatively affects the business environment.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucicč; Editing by Rod Nickel)