The Presidency and National Council of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) at its meeting on Monday strongly supported the government's plan to regain ownership of the INA oil and gas company.

"We have received firm and strong support from the HDZ Presidency and National Council that INA should return to Croatia, full support for the government's idea to buy MOL's stake," HDZ leader and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told the press after the meeting.

The meeting, which lasted several hours, discussed the arbitration award on INA, the current situation in Croatia and forthcoming local elections, due in May.

The view of the ruling party's highest bodies is that the INA buyout plan should be carried out through an initial public offering of 25 minus one share of the power provider HEP.

Asked to comment on the statement by Bozo Petrov, the leader of the Bridge party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, that the sale of a stake in HEP was not the only way to regain ownership of INA, Plenkovic said that in their opinion this was the best possible way.

"As far as we are concerned, it is our deepest conviction that this is the best and most effective of all possible models, one that would also generate our capital market. We believe that this would further strengthen HEP, which is our company, very profitable and of good standing, and I am certain that the initial public offering would generate sufficient proceeds for the purchase of MOL's stake in INA," Plenkovic said.

He said that they would not make public the arbitration tribunal's ruling in the INA-MOL case, citing confidentiality of the entire process.

Asked about Petrov's proposal that companies of strategic interest to Croatia should be protected by the Constitution to avoid a repeat of the INA case in the future, the prime minister said that Croatian natural resources were already protected under the Constitution, adding that Bridge's initiative was more of a symbolic nature.

"I have confidence in the Croatian parliament, in the government and the party that I lead, and I am certain that Croatia's managing rights in key strategic energy companies can be effectively regulated and ensured by law," Plenkovic said.

Asked to comment on an initiative to hold a referendum on the proposed sale of a 25% stake in HEP for the purchase of MOL's stake in INA, he said there was no need for a referendum because decisions on matters like this fell within the remit of the government, parliament and representative democracy.

As for the plan to adopt the euro, the prime minister said he expected Croatia to get close to meeting the criteria for its adoption at the end of the term of his government.

"In agreement with the Croatian National Bank, from which we expect thorough analyses, we will try to get close to meeting the criteria for the adoption of the euro," Plenkovic said, adding that this also depended on partners in the euro area and the EU.

Speaking of forthcoming local elections, Plenkovic said that the HDZ expected to achieve even better results than before. He said that all HDZ county branches would conduct consultations and propose possible candidates in the next four weeks so that lists of candidates for county heads and for all key towns would be completed by mid-February.

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