Deputy Prime Minister and Bridge party leader Bozo Petrov has said that Croatia must not give up on arbitration proceedings in the case of the oil and gas company INA and that INA shares cannot be sold off just as there can be no selling-off of the state-owned forest and water management companies because of their strategic importance for the country. 

Petrov made the statement in an interview with the Jutarnji List daily issue of Saturday, when asked about the government's policy on INA and the possible sale of its shares.

Petrov said the question was not "whether INA will be sold, but whether obligations have been met." "That is what should be discussed, and selling INA before determining if MOL has fulfilled the obligations it assumed is out of the question (...) I do not understand statements that we don't need arbitration, if it's in our favour and if it's one of the negotiating tools. But that's my opinion, the Prime Minister will form a working group to conduct the talks, and he will be heading it," Petrov said.

INA is owned jointly by the Croatian government and the Hungarian oil and gas group MOL. MOL holds 49.08% of shares in INA and the Croatian government holds 44.84%.

Speaking about relations within the ruling majority, which consists of Bridge and the Patriotic Coalition, led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Petrov said that speculations about an early election were unfounded.

"If statements about a new election - which Bridge does not want - were really serious, I wonder what their scenario would be? Would the Patriotic Coalition go before voters even though it was the one that proposed the incumbent Prime Minister, and he enjoys citizens' support? Would they go to elections without having presented a single reform project? I think such a scenario is unrealistic even though a part of the Patriotic Coalition is wishing for it," said Petrov.

He also dismissed speculation that the opposition Croatian People's Party (HNS) "could change its orientation" and form a coalition with the HDZ.

"It would be interesting to see that combination. But there will be no reshuffles. The government functions well, ministers cooperate well and that will be seen soon," he said.

He confirmed that amendments to the Croatian National Bank Act had been prepared and that the government should discuss them in two weeks' time.

The amendments do not restrict the HNB's autonomy in any way but they do enable supervision of its operations, as is the case in other European countries, Petrov said.

As for negotiations between trade unions and the government on a six-percent rise in the basic wage, envisaged by an agreement from 2009 that went into force on 1 January this year and that provides for such an increase if GDP grows by more than two percentage points for two consecutive quarters, Petrov said that the government did not have the money for it.

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