Croatian People's Party (HNS) vice-president and former economy minister Ivan Vrdoljak has said that he wishes Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and his government a lot of success and that the HNS will be a constructive Opposition and a mainstay of a civil and secular Croatia, adding that the party will defend secularism "to the end."

The fact that senior church representatives openly lobbied during the talks on the formation of the new government has not been adequately condemned, Vrdoljak said at a news conference in Osijek on Saturday, held as part of his tour of the party's county branches.

"That must be condemned. This state is based on its constitution. More than 13,000 people gave their lives for it. That did not happen so that someone from the Vatican or the Catholic Church in Croatia could run this country, it has the parliament, the president and the prime minister to run it. We will defend secularism until the end," said the HNS official.

Asked to comment on his term in office as economy minister, Vrdoljak said that he was certain that a lot had been done.

"Just remember what the situation was like when we took office. Bankruptcy was looming for Petrokemija, Borovo, Djuro Djakovic, the Cepin oil mill, the Bizovacke Toplice spa, the shipbuilding industry... We had to save dozens of thousands of jobs. We succeeded for the most part," Vrdoljak said, adding that Croatia was today being mentioned as the strategically most important country in Southeast Europe in terms of energy.

"That was our goal. We made significant headway."

Vrdoljak said that he did not doubt that projects for oil and gas exploration in the Adriatic and for thermal power plants would be implemented even though they were currently on hold.

"I don't know how the investment climate in Croatia is to improve - which is what the Prime Minister wants - if messages are sent out about projects being suspended," he said.

Vrdoljak said that he and his successor Tomislav Panenic would sit down and discuss all outstanding issues within the jurisdiction of the economy ministry.

As for Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, Vrdoljak said he wished him a lot of success. "Oreskovic won't be a problem. Political support and petty politics, something which primarily Bridge is prone to, will be a problem," said Vrdoljak.

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