, ZAGREB Jul 7 – Jadranka Kosor became Croatia’s first woman prime minister on Monday vowing to revive the country’s bid to join the European Union and tackle the economic crisis.
The journalist-turned-politician and her centre-right cabinet were approved by 83 deputies in a late night vote in the 153-member parliament. Forty-five voted against, no one abstained while the remaining were not present.
Kosor is succeeding Ivo Sanader who, after holding Croatia’s most powerful political position for the past six years, shocked the nation by resigning last week, pushing the country into political turmoil.
The 56-year-old Kosor is taking up the mantle amid deep economic woes that have the country facing its worst crisis since its war of independence from the former communist Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Her appointment is seen as controversial, but she has pledged to tackle Croatia’s economic struggles and its stalled bid to become the European Union’s 28th member by 2011.
The EU accession talks have been blocked by Slovenia due to a long-standing border row between the two former Yugoslav republics.
In a speech to parliament before the vote, Kosor said she was convinced that EU talks would eventually be unblocked and called on EU officials to help resolve the issue.
"I want to tell to our European friends that we did our part, we are doing our job, and the burden of historic responsibility (to solve the issue) is at this moment lying on them," she said.
"Croatia will become a full-fledged member of the European family … despite historical short-sightedness of our northern neighbours," she said in a reference to Slovenia.
Kosor also faces a big challenge with the economy, which shrank 6.7 percent in the past year, according to first quarter figures. It is the sharpest fall in gross domestic product since 2000. The central bank forecasts that GDP will contract by four percent in 2009.
"Recovery of the economy is a central plank in the programme for the next period but also continuation of Croatia’s EU talks," she told lawmakers.
Critics warn that Kosor, who was elected at the weekend as the first female head of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) since the party was founded two decades ago, lacks the experience and power to deal with the crises.
Observers describe her as "omnipresent but invisible" protégé of Sanader.
But Kosor has brushed aside such criticism.
"I will lead both the government and the (HDZ) party with a strong female hand," Kosor said at a weekend convention of her Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).
Sanader did not give clear reasons for why he quit but repeatedly hinted it was prompted partly due to frustration with Croatia’s stalled EU bid.
At the end of her speech Kosor appealed to women MPs, in a still traditional patriarchal society, to support her.
"Women should be given a chance where there is real power and money. This is a right opportunity for that," she said.
Kosor, a Sanader protégé who has been deputy prime minister since 2003, is a law graduate from Zagreb University but made her career in journalism, hosting a radio show for refugees during the 1991-1995 war in the Balkans.
Her rise within the HDZ began at the end of the conflict, and she held portfolios in government dealing with war veterans and family issues.
The new government coalition differs only slightly from the previous one, bringing in only four new names.