Croatia Seals Tilt to Right as Prime Minister’s Cabinet Approved

(Bloomberg) -- Croatian lawmakers approved a coalition government that gives Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic a third term after he made a deal to include a right-wing nationalist party known for anti-immigration rhetoric.

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The tilt to the right for the Balkan nation comes a month after Plenkovic suffered an electoral setback that gave him few avenues to preserving power. Croatia’s longest-serving prime minister campaigned on his record of adopting the euro and steering the country into the European Union’s visa-free travel area.

After a 10-hour debate on Friday, lawmakers in Zagreb voted 79-61, with one abstention, to install the government. Speaking to legislators, Plenkovic pledged continuity even while taking on Homeland Movement as a new coalition partner.

“Our vision includes responsible fiscal policies, fostering economic growth and stimulating the economic environment, as well as continuing with the green transition,” he said.

Plenkovic has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine in the war against Russia and has pushed Croatia’s conservative ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Party, or HDZ, closer to the political center by backing protection for ethnic minorities, women and LGBTQ+ people.

While Homeland Movement has condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine, five of its lawmakers, including party leader Ivan Penava, quashed a motion under Plenkovic’s previous government to propose training Ukrainian officers in the country.

With the new government, Croatia joins a list of EU countries with nationalist or anti-immigration politicians in power, including Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary.

New Goals

Although Homeland Movement will control only three out of 18 government ministries, its leaders in recent weeks have said they will seek to roll back minority and women’s rights and curb what they see as ills of globalization. The junior partners also want the authorities to set up a museum for the victims of communism and an inquiry into measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the rules hurt the economy.

Plenkovic also complied with a request that a Serb minority party be kept out of the ruling coalition.

“We are worried,” Sandra Bencic, leader of the left-leaning Mozemo party, said during the debate in parliament. “The government now partners with a party that expressed anti-constitutional viewpoints about minority rights and that seeks a drastic change of discourse in politics.”

A former diplomat and lawyer by training, Plenkovic reiterated that he was seeking to “renew the dialog” with centrist and left-wing opposition parties after they rejected previous advances.

Homeland Movement didn’t get a mandate from voters for “big ideological changes” and the HDZ under Plenkovic won’t shift to the right on its own, according to Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb.

“How long the HDZ endures in a coalition with a right-wing party that has a touch of radicalism remains to be seen, but mostly it depends on Plenkovic,” he said. “He already said he’s looking for new partners.”

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