If SDP Fails to Win Three Seats in EU Elections, Bernardić Should Resign



Zagreb, 310515.
Tonino Picula, zastupnik Republike Hrvatske u Europskom parlamentu.
Na fotografiji: Tonino Picula.
Foto: Darko Tomas / CROPIX
Darko Tomas / CROPIX

Tonino Picula, a politician nominated for 'MEP of the Year'

A politician nominated for 'MEP of the Year' talks about relations within his party and ambition to run for President.

Davor Bernardić should be allowed to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP) until the elections for the European Parliament. However, if the party wins fewer than three seats, he must resign. This is the opinion of MEP Tonino Picula, a prominent member of the SDP, who has been nominated for the 'MEP of the Year' title. We talked with him about the increasingly tense relations between Sarajevo and Zagreb, his ambitions to run for President and the reasons he believes he could defeat the incumbent, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

Since the election of Željko Komšić to the Croat seat on the B-H Presidency, the Croatian-B-H relations have been growing ever more complex and tense. Was it possible to avoid?

I would rearrange the elements in your question; the chronic tensions in B-H reflects the complexity of the Dayton Accord. The latest episode could probably have been prevented by the willingness of political representatives of the three constituent peoples in B-H to reach consensus on key issues that burden the functioning of their state. The Dayton order has been hampering constructive and long-term cooperation in B-H for a long time now. It has increasingly encouraged a culture of permanent conflict instead, and the blockade of institutions. [B-H needs] an upgrading to the Dayton Accord, an electoral reform, before the last election cycle, including the recognition of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić-Finci case. Without it, [the country] will find it very difficult to escape the shadow of the never-ending post-conflict atmosphere in the society — but also potentially the pre-conflict atmosphere.


What weight does the opinion of three former High Representatives in B-H have? They claim that Croatia is meddling in B-H internal affairs.

The memo of three High Representatives throws glaring light on the chronic and continuous process of eroding the order established in B-H by the Dayton Accord. Given the extremely important role of the Office of the High Representative in the post-Dayton period, when the three HRs were behind the helm, someone should probably write them a memo — asking them to justify their own contribution to the sad state of affairs. Their opinions distort the reality still further. I can agree with the three only in the statement that a truly 'rare mechanism' has been applied to a complex multinational state. That same mechanism, however, promotes division and majorization, separatism and unitarianism, rather than helping harmonize relations and interests. I am glad that Mr. Lajčak, himself a former High Representative, has distanced himself from the standpoint of his predecessors.


■ What can be achieved with the Declaration on the Position of Croats in B-H prepared by the HDZ?

It should not have been a document that reflects the political views of a single party towards B-H. Instead, it should have reflected a more complex position towards the circumstances in the neighboring country. Over almost thirty years, the policies of the Croat people in B-H and the Croatian policies towards B-H have oscillated too widely and produced a variety of consequences. Then, in 2018, the Sabor accepts a one-sided interpretation of the events [produced by the] ruling party. If one wants to use the Declaration to seek a change of the distressing position of Croats in B-H for the better, they must first assume a part of the responsibility for the situation they are not satisfied with. This is a prerequisite to seeking the understanding and support of others.


■ In your opinion, how should Zagreb address the position of Croats in B-H?

Zagreb is in a dual position when it comes to B-H and the Croat people who live there. As the closest EU member to B-H, and as a signatory to the Dayton Peace Accord, Croatia must be committed to the territorial integrity of B-H and must assist B-H on its path towards the EU membership. The Croatian approach to B-H must derive from the historical experience and geopolitical realities. It needs to actively participate in the consolidation of relations by helping negotiate better solutions, not the demonstrably bad ones.


■ The European Small Islands Federation has nominated you for the 'MEP of the Year' title. What did you do for them?

Islanders, both Croatian and European, and they number nearly 20 million, daily have to face a series of problems, from higher prices, over shortages of electricity and water, to less accessible healthcare, education and public services in general. In addition, they are more exposed to the negative consequences of the climate change. Arriving to the European Parliament as a representative from Croatia, a country [with a distinct island component], I discovered that there was no EU body that dealt with the [islanders'] specific problems. I decided to help them get their voice in the EU.

Together with my colleagues, I founded the Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas Intergroup. I also encouraged the establishment of the EU Islands Secretariat with the budget of EUR 12 million for the start of the energy transition of the European islands. Five islands of the Lošinj-Cres area have already been able to secure funds for energy transition projects in the first, recently completed tender, as pilot actions in the implementation of this important project at the European level. Last year my office launched the 'Water Saving Challenge' project, focusing on sharing experiences in efficient water management on the islands. Based on the results, we also published a guide to water management. The validity of the Croatian know-how has been confirmed by the Islands Coordination of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which decided to copy the project for its own islands.


■ You also help cities apply for European funds for free Wi-Fi in public places. How does this project work in Croatia?

In the first invitation of bids, the results of which were released last week, funds for the so-called 'Wi-Fi hotspots' were won by 224 Croatian cities and municipalities, at EUR 15,000 each. It is up to them now to draw the funds and build those hotspots, which will enable citizens to enjoy free internet access in public places. By the end of 2020, four more invitations will be announced. I invite the other cities and municipalities, those which have not yet applied for or received the funds, to apply or reapply. As before, we will help them through the application process.


■ The elections for the European Parliament are getting closer. Do you know what your position on the slate will be?

First and foremost, I am pleased with the fact that this time the SDP started the preparations for the Euro election in time and in a serious manner. Given the problems the party faces, the elections are an opportunity for political mobilization and consolidation. As far as the slate for the European Parliament is concerned, the Main Committee adopts it at the proposal of the party president. I believe I will be on the slate, but do not worry about the position. I haven't worried before, either.


■ SDP President Bernardić says that Zlatko Komadina should be the first on the list, while Komadina says it should be Biljana Borzan. Who should be the SDP slate leader in your opinion?

The SDP should primarily address the voters, and offer the public a clear platform and a slate of recognizable candidates. Voting is preferential, so that the order on the slate set by the party bodies is not carved in stone. I think the debate on who shall be the first shows that we have a number of good, strong party candidates for the EU elections.


■ SDP counts on two safe seats, but the current popularity rating of the party might actually find you fighting Borzan for a single seat. Are you ready for that?

I must correct you. The SDP has projected the electoral support of two hundred thousand voters, or three seats in the European Parliament. The support I have received from the county chapters, as well as the fact that I coordinate the creation of the party platform for the elections, indicates confidence of the voter base and the party leadership, and also a support for my past and future work. The SDP is committed to gender equality in setting the slate and I believe that the order of the candidates will reflect it.


■ Should Bernardić step down from the top of the party if the SDP does badly in the European elections?

In democratic systems the position of a party president depends primarily on election results. The president should be given the opportunity to lead the party until the elections.


■ What would be a bad result for you?

Any result below the 3-seat target.


■ A part of the SDP membership would like you to be the party candidate in the upcoming elections for the President of the Republic. Would you accept such a bid?

I certainly appreciate the expression of support for my work so far. As the leader of the Croatian left and of the opposition, the SDP must have its own candidate for the President. I want my every action connected to the party to contribute to the strengthening of its position on the public scene. This is especially true in the crisis the party — but also the country as a whole — is facing. However, the presidential elections must first be discussed within the party, just as we did for the elections for the European Parliament.


■ Why do you believe you could defeat Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović? According to all polls, she is the most popular politician in the country.

Do I have to remind you that the distinct popularity of former President Ivo Josipović failed to affect his election results in the end? I am convinced that the unacceptable taking of political sides by the incumbent President must have produced a strong reaction from a different Croatia — a reaction that will limit the political damage [that radiates] from Pantovčak to a single mandate.