Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Zoran Milanovic on Friday publicly called on the Bridge reformist coalition to support his Croatia Is Growing coalition in forming a new government and offered Bridge leader Bozo Petrov to be Parliament Speaker, noting that due to "too big differences" the SDP did not find a coalition government with the HDZ-led Patriotic Coalition acceptable.
"We can and want to run a government with Bridge in the next four years and it's up to them to decide. We believe that they are a homogenous entity and have a clear policy. The results of my government can be seen now, but a lot of serious work still lies ahead, and we offer to continue doing it in partnership with Bridge. Since Mr Petrov is the leader of Bridge, we propose that he be Parliament Speaker," Milanovic said at a news conference in his party's offices.
If Petrov cannot or will not accept the offer, the SDP will accept that and will "as the relatively biggest group in the Sabor" propose a person for the post of Parliament Speaker.
The SDP cannot participate in a coalition government with the HDZ due to "too big differences" between them. "Unity is praiseworthy. With Bridge it is possible, but with the HDZ and people who keep repeating that we have destroyed Croatia, it is not. Croatia today is a better country than it was when they left it in rags," he said.
Negotiations with Bridge have been good and agreement has been reached on many topics, said Milanovic.
"I said at the beginning that our (SDP-led government's) negotiators are honest and competent people who keep their word and who will not say 'yes' to absolutely everything that (Bridge) proposes. As serious and responsible people we must discuss some things and be aware of the fact that we are a part of the EU, that some things can be changed, but that for some things to be changed we would have to leave the EU, which at this moment is not possible and is not a topic of negotiations," said Milanovic.
He expressed concern that in the days ahead there would be no time for "constructive talks as in recent days" given preparations for the inaugural session of the parliament, set for December 3.
"The President has decided that the parliament should be inaugurated on December 3 and that is her right under the law. It's all right, (the session) could have been called a week later as well and then maybe we would have had more time for negotiations."
Milanovic said that he believed the current situation was delicate. "We have a third force that won so many votes that make it unavoidable in forming a government and that's a fact. I don't go around bragging that we can form a government with a part of Bridge. We don't want that, but maybe we could do it more easily than the HDZ, but that is not the right way and our messages in that regard are much fairer than those coming from the HDZ, which are messages of intimidation and arrogance."
Asked if he had conducted any private talks with Petrov, Milanovic said that he had not. "No. I exchange text messages with him, but I have not spoken with him since the meeting at the Westin (hotel)," said Milanovic.
He dismissed media speculation that he would hold a meeting with former Bridge member Drago Prgomet, who, as the media speculate, could bring six Bridge members to the SDP-led coalition.
"That is not true and someone is systematically trying to make us look as if we were working to break up Bridge... You heard yesterday what (HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko) said - that he did not need the whole Bridge and that he would not need it. I could not say such a thing, even though at the moment our status is better than the HDZ's and we need fewer votes," said Milanovic.
He said that he was in contact with Prgomet but stressed that they did not hold any meetings. "Mr Prgomet was a member of Bridge, he is no longer a member, it's a pity, but they know best," said Milanovic.
Asked about Bridge's demand for declaring an exclusive economic zone in the Adriatic, Milanovic said: "Yes, in line with our obligations in the EU. It is known that the EC decides on fishing quotas, those rules are strict and set, and people in Bridge know and understand that. Croatia is a member of the EU and if we can improve our status even just a little, I agree."
Milanovic said that he was confident of the support of 66 elected members of Parliament for him as prime minister-designate. "But that means nothing until I have collected 76 votes... I showed that to the President yesterday."
Reporters also wanted to know about reports of threats against elected member of Parliament Mirko Raskovic, a member of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), who said on Thursday that several people from his party were pressuring him regarding support for prime minister-designate, which he still had not decided on, and that due to those pressures he had decided to ask President Grabar-Kitarovic to protect him politically.
"If Mr Raskovic is being threatened, he must say who is doing that and how. I do not know him personally, I first met him 10 days ago in the parliamentary group when all minority representatives were present, on the day when elections were repeated at several polling stations. I am somewhat perplexed by his behaviour, but you have to ask him about it. Something has happened in the meantime, something very serious," he said.
Asked if he had threatened anyone, he said: "It is well known who makes threats in this country - I and my people don't do it. My history is not a history of secret services, the intelligence underworld, I'm not that kind of a person, my associates aren't, but let's hear who is threatening whom and who is possibly blackmailing whom. I have nothing to do with the intelligence underworld and I have no such information about people or Mr Raskovic," said Milanovic.
Asked what he was alluding to, he said that he was not alluding to anything and that he believed the topic was very interesting to journalists.
Commenting on the latest favourable economic indicators, he said: "Croatia really is growing and there is no going back. Data on economic growth slightly surprised us and we believe that it is important to continue with the job. It would be good to continue working on what needs to be worked on as soon as possible," Milanovic said in a comment on the latest statistics showing that in the third quarter of this year the economy grew 2.8% compared to the same period of 2014, which is the fastest growth rate since the last pre-recession year 2008 and above the EU average.
"We have worked for four years, it has been difficult, we have fought against disorder, corruption and lack of organisation. Everything is growing now, at rates we have not had for seven years. It is good that growth is being recorded in areas that used to be neglected, in production and exports, and that to a great extent is the result of the government's work on specific areas," said Milanovic.