Zoran Milanović (pronounced [zǒran milǎːnoʋit͡ɕ]; born 30 October 1966) is the Prime Minister of Croatia and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), the largest centre-left political party in Croatia.
After graduating from the Zagreb Law School, Milanović started working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as counselor at the Croatian Mission to the European Union and NATO in Brussels from 1996 to 1999. That same year he joined the Social Democratic Party. In 1998 he earned his Master’s degree in European Union law at the Flemish University in Brussels and was assistant Foreign Minister of the Republic of Croatia for political multilateral affairs in 2003.
He was the coordinator of the Social Democrats in the 4th constituency in 2006 and was elected party leader in June 2007, following the death of longtime leader and former Prime Minister Ivica Račan, running on a reformist platform. After endorsing Ljubo Jurčić as the party’s official candidate for Prime Minister, Milanović set out his goal of making SDP the largest political party in Parliament. In the 2007 general election the Social Democrats came in second and were unable to form a governing majority. Despite losing the election, he was reelected party leader in 2008 and served as Leader of the Opposition until the next election cycle. In 2011, Milanović initiated the formation of the Kukuriku coalition, uniting four major centre-left political parties in the country. The coalition won the 2011 parliamentary election in a landslide, with SDP becoming the strongest party in Parliament. Milanović became Prime Minister in December 2011, after Parliament approved his cabinet by a large majority.
The main agenda of his Premiership has been revitalizing the economy, with the most focus being on reforming government administration and bureaucracy, lowering the public debt and reforming the tax code. Other major initiatives include finishing the ratification process and overseeing Croatia’s entry to the EU and liberalizing the country’s artificial insemination law. A self-described liberal, Milanović is a strong supporter of gender equality and LGBT equal rights.
His father Stipe and mother Gina have roots in Sinj. Zoran has a brother named Krešimir. He attended the Center for Management and Judiciary (an elite high-school). By his own admission, he was very lively and prone to fighting. In 1986 he entered the University of Zagreb to study law. Apart from his native Croatian, he speaks English, French and Russian.
After college, he became an intern at the Zagreb Commercial Court, and in 1993 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ironically being employed by future political rival Ivo Sanader. A year later, joined an OSCE peacekeeping mission in war-torn Azerbaijan, in the rebel-held Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In 1994, he married Sanja Musić with whom he later had two sons, Jakov and Marko. In 1996 he became an advisor at Croatian mission to the European Union and NATO at Brussels, and two years later he got his Masters Degree in EU law from a Brussels university. He returned to the Foreign Ministry in 1999, at the end of his mandate.
Election as party leader
In 1999, he joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as he had not yet been an official member. Following SDP’s win in the 2000 elections, he was given responsibility for liaison with NATO, three years later he became assistant to Foreign Minister Tonino Picula. He left his post after the 2003 elections when the conservative Croatian Democratic Union came to power.
As an SDP member, in 2004 he renounced his position as an assistant minister of foreign affairs and became a member of the newly founded SDP’s Executive Committee as well as the International Secretary in charge of contacts with other political parties. Two years later, he briefly became party spokesman, standing in for absent Gordana Grbić. In early September 2006 he became SDP’s coordinator for the 4th constituency in the 2007 elections.
An extraordinary Party convention was held in Zagreb on 2 June 2007, due to the 11 April resignation of the first Party President and Croatia‘s former Prime Minister Ivica Račan. Milanović entered the contest, despite being considered an “outsider”, because of his shorter term in the party, running against Željka Antunović (acting Party President since Račan’s resignation), Milan Bandić and Tonino Picula. On 29 September 2007, during the campaign for party president, he publicly promised to resign and never to seek presidency of the party again, if party didn’t win more seats that HDZ in next elections. In the first round he led with 592, well ahead of his nearest rival Željka Antunović. In the second round, he faced Antunović and again won by a large margin, thereby becoming president of the party.
The 2007 parliamentary election turned out to be the closest election since independence with SDP winning 56 seats, only 10 mandates short of HDZ’s 66. 5 seats that HDZ had won were from the eleventh district reserved for citizens living abroad, which was one of the main campaign issues of SDP which sought to decrease electoral significance of the so-called diaspora voters. The resulting close race left both sides in a position to form a government, provided they gather 77 of the 153 representatives. After the election, Sanader seemed to be in a better position to form a cabinet which caused Milanović to controversially make himself the candidate for Prime Minister over the less popular Ljubo Jurčić, despite not consulting the party’s Main Committee. However, the Social Democrats remained in the Opposition, since Ivo Sanader managed to form a majority coalition.
After losing the hotly contested general elections, Milanović did not resign as party leader, despite promising before the election that he would, should the party lose. In the 2007 election, despite the loss, SDP emerged with the largest parliamentary caucus in their history and achieved their best result yet. Milanović seemed to be in a good position to remain party leader and announced he would run for a first full term as party leader. In the 2008 leadership election he faced Davorko Vidović and Dragan Kovačević, but emerged as the winner with almost 80 percent of the delegate vote.
Leader of the Opposition
With 56 seats won SDP emerged from the 2007 election as the second largest party in Parliament and the largest party that is not a part of the governing majority. This made Milanović the unofficial Leader of the Opposition. Milanović was very critical of the Sanader administration, especially concerning their handling of the economy and the fight against corruption.
In September 2008, Milanović made a highly publicized visit to Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate the Bleiburg massacre. This made him the second leader of the Social Democratic Party of Croatia to visit the site, the first being Ivica Račan.
The 2009 local elections were held on 17 and 31 May and resulted with the Social Democrats making considerable gains in certain traditionally HDZ-leaning cities and constituencies, such as Dubrovnik, Šibenik, Trogir and Vukovar, as well as retaining such major traditionally SDP-leaning cities as Zagreb and Rijeka.
On 1 July 2009, Ivo Sanader announced he was resigning the Premiership and leaving his deputy Jadranka Kosor as Prime Minister. Parliament approved her and the new Cabinet which made Kosor the first woman ever to be appointed Prime Minister. Ever since late 2008, SDP had been leading the polls, however by a narrow margin. After the sudden resignation of Sanader HDZ plummeted in the polls to their lowest level since 1999 when corruption scandals were rocking the party establishment. Milanović insisted the resignation of the Prime Minister means that an early general election was necessary. The governing majority refused to dissolve Parliament and insisted that the Kosor cabinet would finish the remainder of its term.
In 2008 the country’s accession to the European Union was deadlocked with the Slovenian blockade over a border dispute. Sanader and his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahor were unable to settle their differences in the following months which meant Croatian’s accession to the European Union was in a standstill. There was much speculation, since Sanader hadn’t given a reason for his departure, whether the Slovenian blockade was the cause for his resignation. In the following months Kosor and Pahor met several times, trying to resolve the border dispute. The negotiations resulted in an agreement which led to the continuation of negotiations for the Croatian accession to the European Union. The solution was an Arbitration Agreement which was signed in Stockholm on 4 November 2009, by both countries’ Prime Ministers and the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. The agreement required a two-thirds majority in Parliament if it were to be approved. Milanović and most SDP MPs voted in favor of the agreement, however he criticized the Government and especially its former and present leaders, Sanader and Kosor, for wasting precious time since the arrangement with Slovenia could have been made a year earlier and Croatia wouldn’t have waited so long to continue with the accession process.
The 2008 economic meltdown hit most European countries hard, as well as Croatia. The crisis continued throughout the following years. Industry shed tens of thousands of jobs, and unemployment soared. Consumer spending reduced drastically compared to record 2007 levels, causing widespread problems in the trade as well as transport industries. The continuing declining standard resulted in a quick fall in both the Prime Minister’s as well as government’s support. Milanović was very critical of the Government’s supposed slow response and inadequate measures that did little to revive the economy. The recession and high unemployment continued throughout 2011 resulting in many anti-government protests around the country.
On 28 October MPs voted to dissolve Parliament. President of the Republic Ivo Josipović agreed to a dissolution of Sabor on Monday, 31 October and scheduled the election, as previously suspected, for Sunday, December 4, 2011. The 2011 parliamentary election saw SDP joining three other left-wing parties to create the media-dubbed Kukuriku coalition with Milanović at the helm. Kukuriku won the election with an absolute majority of 81 seats. The election was the first in which rival HDZ was not the leading individual party in Parliament.
Milanović presented his cabinet to Parliament on 23 December, 19 days after the election. The discussion resulted with 89 members, 81 Kukuriku and 8 national minority MPs, voting in favour of the Milanović cabinet. The transition to power occurred the following evening when Jadranka Kosor welcomed Milanović to the government’s official meeting place, Banski dvori, opposite the Sabor building on St. Mark’s Square and handed him the necessary papers and documents.
By taking office at the age of 45, Zoran Milanović became one of the youngest Prime Minister since Croatia’s independence. In addition, his cabinet also became the youngest, with an average minister’s age being 48. Cabinet members came from three out of the four parties of the winning coalition, leaving only the single-issue Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU) without representation.
Milanović’s foreign policy was concentrated in the ccession of Croatia to the European Union. On 22 January 2012, an EU accession referendum was held, 66.25% voted in favour, 33.13% against. About 47% of eligible voters took part in the referendum. On 7 March 2013, Milanović signed the Memorandum of Agreement with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, that consists of an agreement to put the issue of Ljubljanska Banka; after the treaty was signed, Slovenia ratified Croatian accession treaty. After all of than 27 member states sign the EU accession treaty, on 1 July 2013, Croatia joined the European Union, becoming the 28th member state.