Zoran Milanović (pronounced [zǒran milǎːnoʋit͡ɕ]; born 30 October 1966) is a Croatian politician who served as the 10th Prime Minister of Croatia from December 2011 to January 2016. He was the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), the largest centre-left political party in Croatia, from 2007 until November 2016. As such, apart from serving as Prime Minister, he was also the Leader of the Opposition on two separate occasions, from 2007 to 2011 and from January to November 2016, when Davor Bernardić succeeded him as SDP chairman.
After graduating from the Zagreb Law School, Milanović started working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as counselor at the Croatian Mission to the European Union and NATO in Brussels from 1996-99. That same year he joined the Social Democratic Party. In 1998 he earned his master's degree in European Union law at the Flemish University in Brussels and was an assistant to the Foreign Minister of Croatia for political multilateral affairs in 2003.
In June 2007 he was elected party leader, following the death of longtime leader and former Prime Minister Ivica Račan. In the 2007 parliamentary election, the party came in second and were unable to form a governing majority. Despite losing the election, he was reelected party leader in 2008. In 2011, Milanović initiated the formation of the Kukuriku coalition, uniting four centre-left political parties. The coalition won an absolute majority in the 2011 parliamentary election, with SDP itself becoming the strongest party in the Parliament. Milanović became Prime Minister on 23 December 2011, after the Parliament approved his cabinet.
The beginning of his prime ministership was marked with finishing the ratification process of Croatia's entry to the European Union and holding an EU membership referendum. His cabinet introduced changes to the tax code, passed a fiscalization law, and started several large infrastructure projects. After the increase in value of the Swiss franc, the government announced that all Swiss franc loans will be converted into euros. Milanović supported the expansion of same-sex couples rights and introduced the Life Partnership Act.
On 22 January 2016, following the 2015 election, he was succeeded as Prime Minister by Tihomir Orešković. Milanović led the four-party People's Coalition in the early parliamentary election in September 2016. Following a surprise defeat in the election to the HDZ, Milanović announced his withdrawal from politics.
His father, Stipe Milanović, was an economist, and his mother, Đurđica (née Matasić) Milanović, was a teacher of English and German.
His paternal family hails from the Sinj environs. His paternal grandfather and a paternal great-uncle, Ante and Ivan Milanović, respectively, from Glavice, reportedly joined the Partisans in 1942, taking part later in the liberation of Trieste, while his maternal grandfather, Stjepan Matasić, from an affluent family, was, Milanović revealed in 2016, an Ustaša.
Zoran's father was a member of the KPJ. Milanović was baptised secretly by his maternal grandmother, Marija Matasić, at the Church of SS Peter and Paul, and given the baptismal name "Marijan". He was brought up in the neighbourhoods of Knežija, and after 1970 in Trnje, in a communist quarter. He has a brother, Krešimir. He attended the Center for Management and Judiciary from 1981.
He was into sports, football, basketball and boxing. He declared as a leftist. In 1985 he entered the University of Zagreb to study law, then finished his military service, and returned to study in 1986. Apart from Croatian, he speaks English, French and Russian.
After college, he became an intern at the Zagreb Commercial Court, and in 1993 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ironically being employed by future political rival Ivo Sanader. A year later, he joined an OSCE peacekeeping mission in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In 1994, he married Sanja Musić, with whom he has two sons. Two years later, he became an advisor at Croatian mission to the European Union and NATO at Brussels, and two years later he got his master's degree in EU law from a Brussels university. He returned to the Foreign Ministry in 1999, at the end of his mandate.
In 1999, he joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as he had not yet been an official member. Following SDP's win in the 2000 elections, he was given responsibility for liaison with NATO, three years later he became assistant to Foreign Minister Tonino Picula. He left his post after the 2003 elections when the conservative Croatian Democratic Union came to power.
As an SDP member, in 2004 he renounced his position as an assistant minister of foreign affairs and became a member of the newly founded SDP’s Executive Committee as well as the International Secretary in charge of contacts with other political parties. Two years later, he briefly became party spokesman, standing in for absent Gordana Grbić. In early September 2006 he became SDP’s coordinator for the 4th constituency in the 2007 elections.
An extraordinary Party convention was held in Zagreb on 2 June 2007, due to the 11 April resignation of the first Party President and Croatia's former Prime Minister Ivica Račan. Milanović entered the contest, despite being considered an "outsider", because of his shorter term in the party, running against Željka Antunović (acting Party President since Račan's resignation), Milan Bandić and Tonino Picula. On 29 September 2007, during the campaign for party president, he publicly promised to resign and never to seek presidency of the party again, if party didn't win more seats that HDZ in next elections.
In the first round he led with 592, well ahead of his nearest rival, Željka Antunović. In the second round, he faced Antunović and again won by a large margin, thereby becoming president of the party.
2007 Parliament election
The 2007 parliamentary election turned out to be the closest election since independence with SDP winning 56 seats, only 10 mandates short of HDZ's 66. 5 seats that HDZ had won were from the eleventh district reserved for citizens living abroad, which was one of the main campaign issues of SDP which sought to decrease electoral significance of the so-called diaspora voters. The resulting close race left both sides in a position to form a government, provided they gather 77 of the 153 representatives. After the election, Sanader seemed to be in a better position to form a cabinet which caused Milanović to make himself the candidate for Prime Minister over the less popular Ljubo Jurčić, without first consulting the party's Main Committee. However, the Social Democrats remained in the Opposition, since Ivo Sanader managed to form a majority coalition.
After losing the hotly contested general elections, Milanović did not resign as party president, despite promising before the election that he would, should the party lose. In the 2007 election, despite the loss, SDP emerged with the largest parliamentary caucus in their history and achieved their best result yet. Milanović seemed to be in a good position to remain party president and announced he would run for a first full term as party president. In the 2008 leadership election he faced Davorko Vidović and Dragan Kovačević, but emerged as the winner with almost 80 percent of the delegate vote.
Leader of the Opposition
With 56 seats won SDP emerged from the 2007 election as the second largest party in Parliament and the largest party that is not a part of the governing majority. This made Milanović the unofficial Leader of the Opposition. Milanović was very critical of the Sanader administration, especially concerning their handling of the economy and the fight against corruption.
In September 2008, Milanović made a highly publicized visit to Bleiburg to commemorate the repatriations. This made him the second leader of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia to visit the site, the first being Ivica Račan.
The 2009 local elections were held on 17 and 31 May and resulted with the Social Democrats making considerable gains in certain traditionally HDZ-leaning cities and constituencies, such as Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Trogir and Vukovar, as well as retaining such major traditionally SDP-leaning cities as Zagreb and Rijeka.
On 1 July 2009, Ivo Sanader announced he was resigning the Premiership and leaving his deputy Jadranka Kosor as Prime Minister. Parliament approved her and the new Cabinet which made Kosor the first woman ever to be appointed Prime Minister. Since late 2008, the SDP had been leading the polls, however by a narrow margin. After the sudden resignation of Sanader HDZ plummeted in the polls to their lowest level since 1999 when corruption scandals were rocking the party establishment. Milanović insisted the resignation of the Prime Minister means that an early general election was necessary. The governing majority refused to dissolve Parliament and insisted that the Kosor cabinet would finish the remainder of its term.
In 2008 the country's accession to the European Union was deadlocked with the Slovenian blockade over a border dispute. Sanader and his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor were unable to settle their differences in the following months which meant Croatian's accession to the European Union was in a standstill. There was much speculation, since Sanader hadn't given a reason for his departure, whether the Slovenian blockade was the cause for his resignation. In the following months Kosor and Pahor met several times, trying to resolve the border dispute. The negotiations resulted in an agreement which led to the continuation of negotiations for the Croatian accession to the European Union. The solution was an Arbitration Agreement which was signed in Stockholm on 4 November 2009, by both countries' Prime Ministers and the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. The agreement required a two-thirds majority in Parliament for it to be approved. Milanović and most SDP MPs voted in favor of the agreement, however he criticized the Government and especially its former and present leaders, Sanader and Kosor, for wasting precious time since the arrangement with Slovenia could have been made a year earlier and Croatia wouldn't have waited so long to continue with the accession process.
The 2008 economic meltdown hit most European countries hard, as well as Croatia. The crisis continued throughout the following years. Industry shed tens of thousands of jobs, and unemployment soared. Consumer spending reduced drastically compared to record 2007 levels, causing widespread problems in the trade as well as transport industries. The continuing declining standard resulted in a quick fall in both the Prime Minister's as well as government's support. Milanović was very critical of the Government's supposed slow response and inadequate measures that did little to revive the economy. The recession and high unemployment continued throughout 2011 resulting in many anti-government protests around the country.
2011 Parliament election
On 28 October MPs voted to dissolve Parliament. President of the Republic Ivo Josipović agreed to a dissolution of Sabor on Monday, 31 October and scheduled the election, as previously suspected, for Sunday, 4 December 2011.
The 2011 parliamentary election saw SDP joining three other left-wing parties to create the media-dubbed Kukuriku coalition with Milanović at the helm. Kukuriku won the election with an absolute majority of 81 seats. The election was the first in which rival HDZ was not the leading individual party in Parliament.
Prime Minister (2011–2016)
Milanović presented his cabinet to the Parliament on 23 December, 19 days after the election. The discussion resulted with 89 members, 81 Kukuriku and 8 national minority MPs, voting in favour of the Milanović cabinet. The transition to power occurred the following evening when Jadranka Kosor welcomed Milanović to the government's official meeting place, Banski dvori, opposite the Sabor building on St. Mark's Square and handed him the necessary papers and documents.
Taking office at the age of 45, Milanović became one of the youngest prime ministers since Croatia's independence. In addition, his cabinet also became the youngest, with an average minister's age of 48. Cabinet members came from three out of four parties of the winning coalition, leaving only the single-issue Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU) without representation. Milanović was reelected as president of the SDP in the 2012 leadership election as the only candidate.
The Milanović administration started its mandate by introducing several liberal reforms. During 2012 a Law on medically assisted fertilization was enacted, Health education was introduced in all elementary and high schools, and Milanović announced further expansion of rights for same-sex couples. During the 2011 elections the Kukuriku coalition promised to publish the registry of veterans of the Croatian War of Independence, which was done in December 2012.
In the Trial of Gotovina et al, following an initial guilty verdict in April 2011, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were ultimately acquitted in November 2012. Milanović called the ruling "an important moment for Croatia", adding that "A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I say thank you to them for surviving so long for the sake of Croatia."
In September 2013 anti-Cyrillic protests started against the introduction of bilingual signs with Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar. Milanović condemned them as "chauvinist violence", saying he will not take down signs in Cyrillic in Vukovar as the "rule of law must prevail".
On 1 December 2013, a constitutional referendum was held in Croatia, its third referendum since becoming independent. The referendum, organized by the citizen initiative For the family, proposed an amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus creating a constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage. Milanović opposed the proposal and told HRT that he would vote against it. The government advised citizens to vote against it, but the referendum passed with 65% votes in favour. Milanović was unhappy that the referendum had taken place at all, saying, "I think it did not make us any better, smarter or prettier." He also said that the referendum does not change the existing definition of marriage according to Croatian laws. He further announced the upcoming enactment of the Law on Partnership, which will enable same-sex persons to form a lifetime partnership union, which would share the same rights as that of marriage proper, apart from the right of adoption. On 12 December 2013 the Government passed the proposed Bill, and the Parliament passed the Life Partnership Act in July 2014.
A bad economic situation weakened the originally strong public support for the Milanović government, which was demonstrated in the 2013 local elections. In the first European Parliament elections in Croatia in 2013, SDP won 32% of the votes and five MEPs, one less than HDZ, the largest opposition party. The following year SDP won 29.9% in the 2014 European Parliament elections and four MEPs. Milanović and his party gave support to Ivo Josipović in the presidential elections, which were won by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović from the HDZ. Josipović later formed his own party, Forward Croatia-Progressive Alliance, instead of returning to the SDP.
Croatian war veterans started a protest in Zagreb in October 2014, calling for the resignation of Predrag Matić, war veterans minister, and a new constitutional law guaranteeing their rights. Milanović rejected their demands, saying that there is no reason to sack the minister and that he would not submit to ultimatums:
My government has not, even by thought, act or omission, brought the human dignity of the Croatian defenders and the eternal significance of the Homeland War into question.
The protest continued throughout 2015. In May 2015 it escalated when hundreds of veterans scuffled with the police in front of the government building. Milanović said that his government has not curbed their rights and that he is ready for talks, but will not be blackmailed. He accused the opposition party HDZ for manipulating with the veterans. Tomislav Karamarko, the president of HDZ, rejected the accusation. Milanović met with the representatives of the protesting veterans in June, but the protest continued.
On 4 August 2015, on the insistence of Milanović and the Defence Minister Ante Kotromanović, a military parade of the Croatian Armed Forces was held in Zagreb in honour of the Victory Day, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm. Milanović thanked everyone who sacrificed their lives for Croatia's freedom. He also expressed his gratitude to Franjo Tuđman, first Croatian president, who led Croatia during the war.
Croatia had every right to do everything that it could to stay alive and integral, it had the right not to get expelled from its home, it had the right not to serve as human shield to those who destroyed cities and burned down villages. Croatia today is not celebrating the war, it is not celebrating anyone's suffering or persecution, let this be clear to everyone who still don't understand. Croatia had done everything it could to avoid the war, it had offered peaceful solutions. And it was rejected. Croatia today celebrates freedom and peace and with a pure heart it celebrates victory, a turning point which put an end to an ugly, imposed and particularly caddish war
The Milanović administration adopted a number of reforms in taxation in order to cope with the difficult economic situation. It raised the standard Value-added tax from 23% to 25% and introduced new VAT rates for goods and services that were not previously taxed. It also cut social insurance contributions and public-sector wages. In October the Financial Operations and Pre-Bankruptcy Settlements Act was passed, which allowed firms that were unable to pay their bills to stay open during the bankruptcy proceedings and restructure their debts. Because of opposition by its coalition partner, HNS, property tax has not been expanded.
The government succeeded in reducing the budget deficit to 5.3% in 2012, but GDP contracted by 2.2% and public debt reached 69.2%. Milanović's time in office has been marked by several cuts to Croatia's credit rating. On 14 December 2012 S&P cut the country's long term rating to BB+ and the short term rating to B. On 1 February 2013, Moody's cut Croatia's credit rating from Baa3 to Ba1.
Several major construction projects started in 2012, including a new passenger terminal on the Zagreb International Airport and a third block of the coal-fired Plomin Power Station. However, some projects have been suspended, including the Ombla hydroelectric power plant. The government said that construction of the Pelješac Bridge was to start in spring 2016. Milanović expressed his support for further oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the Adriatic Sea, which is opposed by the opposition parties and environmental organizations.
In November 2012 Minister of Economy and Deputy Prime Minister Radimir Čačić resigned and was replaced by Ivan Vrdoljak. In 2013 a new fiscalization law was introduced to control gray economy and minimize tax avoidance. The government put focus on the shipbuilding industry and privatized state-owned shipyards by May 2013. In order to service public debt, the government presented a project of monetization of Croatian highways in 2013 which would bring around 2.5 billion euros. Trade unions and civic associations rejected the proposal and called for a retraction of the decision. A civic initiative called "We Are Not Giving Our Highways" gathered signatures for a highway referendum. Although the constitutional court ruled that a referendum on the subject was unconstitutional, the government announced that it was withdrawing the decision. Instead of the initial plan to lease the country's highways to foreign investors, the government will instead offer shares in them to Croatian citizens and pension funds.
The Pension Insurance Act of January 2014 raised the statutory retirement age from 65 to 67 and early retirement age from 60 to 62. The unemployment rate peaked in February 2014 at 22.6%, but has since been steadily declining. In May 2014 Milanović sacked the finance minister, Slavko Linić, over a property deal that he said had hurt the state budget and appointed Boris Lalovac on his place. Changes in Personal Income Tax were introduced in 2015, the non-taxable part of income was raised, which resulted in a net salary increase for around one million people.
In January 2015 the government decided to freeze exchange rates for Swiss francs for a year, after a rise in the franc that caused increasingly expensive loans for borrowers in that currency. In August 2015 Milanović announced that Swiss franc loans will be converted into euro-denominated ones.
GDP decreased in 2013 (-0.9%) and 2014 (-0,4%), but in the 4th quarter of 2014 real GDP growth reached 0.3% for the first time since 2011. It was announced on 28 August 2015 that the economy had grown by 1.2% for a third consecutive quarter which marked Croatia's exit from a six-year economic recession. The budget deficit decreased in 2015 to 3.2% of GDP, down from 5.5% in 2014, and public debt was at 86.7% of GDP, the lowest debt growth rate since the introduction of the ESA 2010 methodology.
Milanović's foreign policy was initially concentrated on the accession of Croatia to the European Union. On 22 January 2012, an EU accession referendum was held, with 66.25% voting in favour and 33.13% against. About 47% of eligible voters took part in the referendum. On 7 March 2013, Milanović signed the Memorandum of Agreement with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, that consists of an agreement to put the issue of Ljubljanska Banka; after the treaty was signed, Slovenia ratified the Croatian accession treaty. After all 27 member states signed the EU accession treaty, on 1 July 2013, Croatia joined the European Union, becoming the 28th member state.
On 27 February 2012 Milanović visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was his first travel to a foreign country since he became prime minister. On the following day he visited Široki Brijeg and Mostar, where he met with members of the Croatian National Assembly, a political organisation of the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milanović said that all he is asking for Croats in that country is a fair deal and added that Croatia will support the Accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union.
Due to the ongoing civil war in Syria, in February 2012 Milanović called on Croatian companies working in Syria to withdraw from the country. On 18 January 2013 Croatian Foreign Ministry declared that Croatia, as well as the entire European Union, recognizes the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the only "legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people". In February 2013 Milanović announced that Croatia is withdrawing its troops from the Golan Heights that are participating in the UN's peacekeeping mission after it was reported that Croatia sold their old weapons to the Syrian opposition.
When demonstrations and riots started in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014, Milanović visited Mostar, a city with a Croat majority, where the seat of HDZ BiH was damaged in the riots. Sarajevo criticized his move, saying he should have visited the capital first. Milanović later called the protest quasi-civic on ethnic and religious vertical. The Croatian Government refused to accept indictments from Sarajevo labeled as political due to unacceptable claims about the character of the Croat–Bosniak War.
On 22 July 2015 a major scandal occurred during the arbitration procedure of the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute, when it was discovered that the Slovenian representative has been lobbying other judges to rule in Slovenia's favor. Three days later Milanović announced the withdrawal of Croatia from arbitration after a meeting with the leaders of parliamentary groups.
European migrant crisis
Beginning on 16 September 2015, migrants and refugees from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa began entering Croatia from Serbia in large numbers after the construction of the Hungary-Serbia barrier. On 17 September Croatia closed its border with Serbia. After initial efforts to register all migrant entrances into Croatia, registration ceased on 18 September and migrants began to be transported toward Slovenia and Hungary. By 23 September 2015 over 40.000 had entered Croatia from Serbia, with main acceptance centers set up in Opatovac and Zagreb, while migrants were also held in Beli Manastir, Ilača, Tovarnik, Ježevo and Sisak. Milanović criticized Serbia for sending migrants only towards the Croatian border, while sparing Hungary and Romania and stated that his country "will not become a migrant hotspot". Tensions escalated between Serbia and Croatia and on 24 September Serbia banned imports from Croatia, while Croatia responded by banning all Serbian-registered vehicles from entering the country. On 25 September Croatia lifted the blockade on its border and Serbia lifted its ban on imports from Croatia, but Milanović said that he is ready to block the border again if necessary. With winter approaching a new, more permanent refugee acceptance center was built in Slavonski Brod in late 2015.
2015 Parliament election
For the 2015 parliamentary election the Kukuriku Coalition changed its name to Croatia is Growing. It consists of three out of four original members: the Social Democratic Party, Croatian People's Party – Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD), Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU), as well as three new ones: Croatian Labourists – Labour Party, Authentic Croatian Peasant Party (A-HSS) and Zagorje Party. Istrian Democratic Assembly left the coalition. The campaign of the Coalition, led by Milanović, was based on rhetoric against austerity measures and emphasizing the government's policies during its mandate.
After 76 days of negotiations, the Patriotic Coalition and the Bridge of Independent Lists party formed the 13th Croatian Government with Tihomir Orešković as the new Prime Minister. Milanović formally handed over office to Orešković in the late hours of 22 January 2016, after a lengthy parliamentary debate on the new government's program and the subsequent vote of confidence.
Leader of the Opposition (2016)
On 2 April 2016, elections were held for the party's leadership. Milanović's opposing candidate was Zlatko Komadina, the prefect of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, who advocated for a "much more social democratic" SDP. Milanović was again re-elected president of SDP for the next four years.
2016 Parliament election
In July 2016, SDP, HNS-LD and HSU formed the People's Coalition (Croatian: Narodna koalicija) for the 2016 parliamentary election. They were joined by the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), while the Croatian Labourists left the coalition.
Leaked taped conversations from a meeting with representatives of veterans association, published on 24 and 25 August 2016 by Jutarnji list, in which Milanović made controversial statements against the neighboring countries of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have caused criticism. While commenting on Serbia's accession to the EU and their law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes prosecution on the whole territory of former Yugoslavia, Milanović stated that the Serbian government was acting arrogantly, and that he was willing to not only block Serbia's EU accession negotiations, but also to adopt a special law which would allow Croatia to prosecute Serbian citizens who committed crimes in Kosovo, adding that "Serbs want to be rulers of the Balkans, but are actually a handful of misery". While commenting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milanović stated that he wasn't "thrilled with the situation there" and complained that "there was no one he could talk to in Sarajevo", adding that he would like for Bosnia and Herzegovina to enter the EU even without all the preconditions being met, since "it's a country without law and order". In addition, he stated that he did not care about Za dom spremni salute but urged veterans not to use it because it is harmful to Croatia.
The HDZ won a majority of seats in the parliament and formed a governing majority with Most, with HDZ leader Andrej Plenković becoming the new Prime Minister. Milanović announced that he would not run for another term as SDP president. On 26 November he was succeeded by Davor Bernardić as the president of SDP. After leaving politics, Milanović entered the consulting business and founded a consulting firm called EuroAlba Advisory.