Zagreb - Unlike the ruling HDZ, opposition parties in parliament on Thursday had little positive to say about the draft budget for 2023, claiming that the government is playing it safe and the budget is unrealistic and inflated, not good for anyone except the state and the government.
MP Peđa Grbin (SDP) said that the 2023 budget did not guarantee higher wages and pensions or higher social benefits, of which some have not changed for years.
The Social Democrats said the budget is bad, keeps the status quo and lacks any vision.
HDZ MPs disagreed with those assessments, underlining the good sides of the budget.
MP: Budget is realistic, sustainable and responsible
The budget is primarily realistic and balanced, sustainable and responsible, said HDZ whip Branko Bačić, dismissing claims that the HDZ was using the budget to bribe voters.
His comment was a response to MP Dalija Orešković's statement that the HDZ is using large transfers to bribe groups of citizens without caring for the quality of services, and that "that system should be dismantled."
Opposition MPs said the budget showed that the government was not ready for any serious reforms, that the slowing down of economic growth and inflation would continue into next year and that the poorest citizens would be affected the most.
The poor are paying for the inflation because the rich have their properties and savings, said Božo Petrov (Bridge).
Bridge MPs also criticised the government for the slow reconstruction of the Banovina region, struck by an earthquake in late 2020.
Vesna Vučemilović (Croatian Sovereignists) said that stabilisation was planned for 2024 and 2025 yet there would be no 5% growth rates. Inflation should slow down to 5.7% next year but food and petrol will continue to be expensive, which will impact citizens' living standards, she said.
Marin Lerotić (IDS) expressed concern that the €1.8 billion budget deficit in 2023 would be covered by new borrowing. We borrow HRK 32 million on a daily basis, he said.
Independent MP Ivana Posavec Krivec (Social Democrats) said that saving was being announced for 2023, the year expected to be marked by a recession, noting that the budget would cause further social fragmentation.
The Reformists and the Green-Left Bloc commended the introduction of free meals for all primary school students, but recalled that they had advocated that move in previous years.
Damir Bakić (Green-Left Bloc) said that more funding would be allocated for housing loan subsidies than in 2022, noting that it had been proven that that directly affected the growth of real estate prices and benefitted the financial industry and not the citizens.
Natalija Martinčević (Reformists) said that the draft budget neglected the north of Croatia, saying that she would not support it.
Anka Mrak Taritaš (GLAS) was satisfied that the budget for 2023 envisaged more funds for cyber security. We asked last year for more funds for that purpose, but the government rejected our amendment with scorn, she said.
The budget protects the most vulnerable social groups, and the total cost of aid measures for citizens and the business sector from 2023 to 2025 is €643 million, said HDZ MP Grozdana Perić.
Sandra Benčić (Green-Left Bloc) said the revenue side of the budget had been the same every year because Croatia had pursued a policy of tax injustice and economic inequality for 30 years. The tax and contribution system is based on the taxation of the middle class, she said, noting that apartment renters paid the least amount of taxes.
Only HRK 100 is envisaged for the voluntary merger of municipalities, which, together with towns, number 555, and many of them have no purpose whatsoever, said Marijan Pavliček (Croatian Sovereignists).
The government has defined a framework for that, there are countries where such mergers were compulsory but that proved to be very bad, said Finance Minister Marko Primorac.
MP: Will constituencies with population decline be punished?
The HDZ's partners, ethnic minority caucuses and the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), were satisfied with the draft budged.
Ethnic minorities are mostly satisfied with the part of the budget referring to them but they are also glad that Croats abroad will obtain more funds, said MP Furio Radin.
Dragana Jeckov (SDSS) welcomed the increase in funding for education as well as the continuation of assistance to family farms and better infrastructure in areas populated by ethnic minorities.
She warned, however, that the population decline in the poorest parts of the country would result in a drop in the revenue of local government units which they receive from the Fiscal Equalisation Fund, calling for finding a way to alleviate that effect.
The parliament ended its debate about the 2023 draft budget around 3 a.m. on Thursday, after debating it for more than 10 hours.
The Opposition submitted numerous amendments, and several were submitted also by the HDZ.
Government officials will state their position on the amendments on 28 November and they will be put to a vote the following day, when the parliament is expected to adopt the 2023 budget, the seventh of the Andrej Plenković government.