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article imageCroatia PM hints at referendum on Adriatic oil and gas drilling

By Paul Bradbury     Mar 5, 2015 in World
Rab - Oil and gas drilling in the Adriatic has looked inevitable, but is the tide turning, as Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic announces his intention to hold a referendum on the issue?
The contentious story of oil and gas drilling in the Adriatic took another twist on March 4, 2015, as Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic announced that he would organise a referendum on the subject, when questioned by journalists during a visit to the island of Rab, according to a report in Croatia Week.
With Croatian tourism largely marketed on the strength of its pristine waters, excellent beaches and limitless sunshine tourism on the Adriatic, it is a major contributor to the country's coffers. Croatia is, however, facing an economic crisis, and with the Russia crisis meaning Europe is searching for alternative oil and gas solutions, there is pressure to proceed with the drilling. Although the issues are far more complex, as previously written on Digital Journal, for some drilling in the Adriatic would be tourism suicide, while for others the economic benefits outweigh other considerations.
In another potentially significant development recently, Croatia's northern Adriatic neighbour Slovenia expressed its wish to be involved in the planned environmental impact assessment for the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Adriatic Sea.
Speaking to journalists on Rab yesterday (click here for the video interview), Prime Minister Milanovic declared this was something that he could not decide alone:
"Until now in Croatia we have gone to a referendum regarding issues which are not critical for the nation, and now I say let's go to a referendum to see if we want to exploit minerals and raw materials, for which wars are fought for around the world, and we may have them underground, or we are going to ignore it because of the voice of the minority which is loud (vocal), and who have a right to be loud (vocal)"
"We have offers from the world's most renowned explorers who may find something worth billions. Are we going to miss that chance? There's a decision I can not make alone."
Digital Journal contacted key players on both sides of the argument on oil and gas drilling in the Adriatic. An email request for a comment on the proposed referendum to Barbara Doric, President of the Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency, prompted this response:
"I'm not in a position to decide whether or not we should have a referendum on this issue. This is a matter of Government and Parliament, and in the case of a referendum, of all Croatian citizens. As president of the Agency for Hydrocarbons I have a clear view on the benefits of the project. The Agency for Hydrocarbons is an independent professional institution which transparently manages the process of exploration and exploitation of oil and gas in the best interest of citizens and the Croatian economy. We are committed to a reasoned and professional discussion, but we live in a democratic society, and it is possible to make strategic decisions even under the influence of emotions."
Ms. Doric has also agreed to a fuller interview with Digital Journal on various issues and concerns relating to the project, which will be published shortly.
There are various initiatives opposing drilling in the jewel of Croatia's tourism, the pristine Adriatic, the most organised of which is the Clean Adriatic Sea Alliance, which also responded to the Digital Journal request for comment:
"Most Croatians are facing economic realities which preclude focusing on much more than survival, if they are even aware of the debate over drilling in the Adriatic they are more likely to believe that Croatia's insolvency problems will be reconciled as a result. All evidence (on a global basis) is to the contrary - the only parties that will gain financially from this endeavour are the oil companies, the bureaucrats, like those at the Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency, and the firms hired by the government as minion experts specifically to provide misinformation to the public.
"If there is to be a true referendum then Croatians must be interrupted from their football, soap operas and other distractions and universally understand the far reaching risks to "the Mediterranean as it once was" - and what all that means to tourism revenues, income from fisheries and our natural heritage. The referendum over the proposed drilling in the Adriatic as suggested by Prime Minister Zoran Milanović seems disingenuous given its timing yesterday. The entire purpose of a democracy is to have participation by its citizens in advance of government activities that will dramatically alter their quality of life and that of generations to come."
What happens now remains to be seen. This is an election year in Croatia, and licences have already been granted, but the recent developments will offer hope to campaigners keen to protect not only a natural treasure, but the major source of tourism revenue which accounts for more than 20 percent of Croatia's GDP.
Croatia - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) | FindTheData
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