President Milanović: Constitutional Court ruling will not put an end to debates about national COVID-19 response team’s work

15. September 2020.

The President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces Zoran Milanović took part in a homecoming ceremony for the 12th Croatian Contingent (HRVCON) returning from the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan at the “Pukovnik Marko Živković” Barracks, located at the 91st Croatian Air Force and Air Defence Base at Pleso.

Responding to questions from members of the media, President Milanović said that the Constitutional Court got ‘cold feet’ when deciding about the constitutionality of epidemiological measures adopted by the national COVID-19 response team, noting that its ruling would not put an end to discussions about the team’s work.

“(Those measures) suspend certain human rights and they do so for a longer period of time. A very vague and loose legal framework was adopted and the Constitutional Court got cold feet, but that’s only human nature,” Milanović told reporters in a comment on the Constitutional Court’s decision that the COVID-19 response team’s epidemiological measures are in line with the Constitution.

“The ruling is as it is, there will be problems because of it, in my opinion, it is not wise and in that sense, I take note of it. I cannot go against it, but I will not keep silent and will defend the Constitution and constitutional freedoms the way I understand them,” President Milanović told reporters.

The Constitutional Court is a political body, which in the case of the COVID-19 response team has made a political decision, the President said, adding that this was a rule of democracy.

On Monday, the Croatian Constitutional Court decided that the laws passed by Croatian Parliament on the powers of the national COVID-19 response team are in accordance with the Constitution, and that the decisions made by the response team due to the coronavirus epidemic are in accordance with the law – except for the decision on work-free Sundays at the start of the epidemic.

Responding to reporters’ questions, President Milanović reiterated his position that there was a state of emergency in Croatia, a state of natural disaster, just as in the whole of Europe, and that debates about the constitutionality of decisions made by the team managing the coronavirus crisis would not stop.

He added that a few months ago he had warned that “in the case of the COVID-19 team a house was being built without legal foundations.” The President believes that the situation could have been avoided elegantly and one could have avoided “questions about jurisdiction, whether one has the right to issue orders and whether those orders exist or are fiction.”

President Milanović believes decisions of the Constitutional Court should be debated because they concern important social topics. “That is called making the nation literate. People should be able to discuss anything, and if something is unjust, they should be able to oppose it. This is simply fear of criticism,” President Milanović said when asked to comment on the view of some HDZ members that decisions by the Constitutional Court should not be debated.

However, the President of the Republic does not share the view of some of the opposition parties that the Constitutional Court should be abolished. “Of course not; but it is a political institution, it is not a regular court. There is no close connection with classic adjudication,” he added.

Asked about the condition of MiG jets, which at the time of his Government’s term in office were overhauled in Ukraine, President Milanović said that the jets were in the best possible condition, compared to the condition they could be in. “When their age is taken into account, one can say that they were saved with the overhaul in Ukraine, which cost the state $10 or 15 million. That’s an insignificant amount for the state. It was an absolutely good job back then. If we had not done it, we would not have any jets today, but we still have a certain number of jets that fly… It was a necessary move, but it has its shelf life,” President Milanović commented on the MiG jets.

He repeated that now new jets should be bought, that the Government was in charge of the process but that he believed the US offer should be given priority for a number of reasons. “They have just donated two helicopters. Those are all factors that should be taken into account when making a decision. The Government must be as neutral as possible, but eventually the decision is a political one,” President Milanović said commenting on the procurement of new fighter jets.