Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) leader Tomislav Karamarko said on Thursday that his party would not give up on the present number of counties in negotiations with the Bridge party on the formation of government.

"Negotiations are under way and we'll see what the other side says. We won't give up on the present number of counties, but we would like to see what the alternative is. If the alternative is regions, then we are against. If we are to abolish the counties, then it's better to keep just towns and municipalities. Why would we have regions then?" Karamarko told reporters while leaving the HDZ headquarters where the two parties' teams of experts were discussing the proposed reform of public administration.

Asked what Bridge's rationale was for the reduction of the number of counties, he said that it was yet to be heard. "Maybe the counties need to be redefined or streamlined to make them cheaper and more effective or the number of employees should be reduced. All this can be discussed because the state apparatus is too heavy and it burdens the real sector, the economy, but no reductions can be made overnight. There is also a possibility of counties being merged, but regions are out of the question because they would lead us back to the 19th century and the division of Croatia."

Commenting on the agreement between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) that Istria should be a special region, Karamarko said that "it's an adventure and it's not good," asking what SDP leader and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was capable of doing for the three signatures of support from the IDS.

"Istria is a county and has the same status as the other counties. We are in favour of decentralisation, including fiscal decentralisation, but we are against autonomous regions. Where would that lead Croatia? That's out of the question," Karamarko stressed.

Expressing his satisfaction with today's talks, Karamarko said that the HDZ was willing to discuss Bridge's proposal to abolish the posts of deputies to local government leaders, redefine electoral units and reduce the number of legislators. He also agreed with the proposal to reduce the number of municipalities that were not self-sustainable. "We have been proposing that for three or four years, as well as reducing the number of towns."

Karamarko confirmed that he had met with elected representatives of the ethnic minorities a few days ago, including Serbian minority MP Milorad Pupovac and Italian minority MP Furio Radin. He would not say whether the minority MPs would support the HDZ-led coalition, noting that "in future the minorities should always support those who form the government, so that they can represent the interests of their respective minorities, rather than be pushed in advance into one political framework."

"Why would all the Serbs in Croatia support a leftist government, or all the Italians, Czechs or Slovaks? That's not good, but obviously we are still playing by the old rules and we will change that," the HDZ leader said.

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