The "We won't give our motorways" civil group began collecting signatures at midnight on Friday for a referendum against the leasing of motorways to monetise their debts.
Signatures will be collected around the country until October 25. One of the group's initiators, unionist Mijat Stanic, told Hina he was confident that those against the monetisation would manage to collect the signatures of more than the ten per cent of all eligible voters required to call a referendum.
The group, comprising five union federations, two road workers unions and seven civil society organisations, is against leasing the Zagreb-Split and Zagreb-Rijeka motorways, claiming it is the least favourable model for repaying the debts which the HAC and ARZ motorway operators incurred by taking out loans to build the motorways.
Stanic said earlier on Friday that HRK 80 billion (approx. EUR 10.5 billion) was the minimum revenue expected from the motorways when all loans were repaid, provided that motorway traffic grew one percent annually in the future.
Those against the monetisation claim the leasing will increase prices, decline service quality, reduce investments in infrastructure and increase unemployment, and that the next ten governments will not be able to make strategic decisions on motorways or treat them as a development resource.
The government said on Friday its objective was to get a one-off concession payment to repay the loans of HAC and ARZ because EUR 2 billion in loan capital was due over the next three years and EUR 4 billion in total loan capital had to be repaid by 2039.
If we repay the debt through rescheduling, as was done until now by taking out new loans, we would have to repay at least EUR 8 billion with interest over the next 25 years, the government said.
Motorways are under concession already and the concession holders, the HAC and ARZ companies, cannot repay their loans from their revenues which total HRK 1.9 billion annually, the government said, adding that this year, with regular motorway maintenance costs and loan repayment, the two companies had to set aside HRK 9 billion.