Croatia – the EU Parliamentary Elections.

Political Background

Croatia is the newest EU member state, having joined on July 1st 2013.

Croatia Is also one of Europe’s newest states, with it declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and its War of Independence ending only in 1995.

Croatia was heavily involved in the notorious Yugoslav wars of the 1990s including both its war of independence and the Bosnian War, which were both heavily linked.

The Croat President in this period, Franjo Tudman was a notorious hard-right and nationalist strongman who led the country with an authoritarian style. Allegedly, Tudman secretly drew up plans with the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, for the partition of Bosnia between their two countries. Tudman’s policies isolated the country.

The close of the war in 1995 and Tudman’s death in office in 1999 led to the country’s direction changing. A centrist reformist government, elected in 2000, attempted to drag the country out of its isolation, and democratise the country. Later governments would all pursue the goal of Europeanising Croatia, and governments generally attempted to move Croatia along the path of open relations with the world, lesser corruption and of cooperation with war crime trials.

These moves were generally popular; though the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia’s decision to sentence Croatian war hero Ante Gotovina was overwhelmingly unpopular (Gotovina’s conviction was later overturned by the ICTY’s appeals panel) and made Croats temporarily turn against the EU.

In another incidence, former PM, Ivo Sanader became embroiled in a series of very serious corruption allegations. The day before parliament was due to remove his immunity Sanader fled to Austria, where he was eventually arrested on an Interpol warrant.

90.4% of the country is Croat, with the largest minority (4.4%) being Serb. Croats are overwhelmingly Catholic and 86.3% of people in Croatia are Catholics. Indeed, some would argue that the main difference between Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs is religious rather than cultural, with the latter two being Muslims and Orthodox Christians, respectively.

The country’s economy was badly affected by the 2009 global financial crisis as it is very services based. Despite this it is still actually wealthier than several other post-communist EU countries on a per capita basis, and the monthly average wage is higher than that of the Czech Republic and Poland. Yugoslavia was always one of the strongest Communist-era economies and Croatia was one of the wealthier Yugoslav republics, with the standard of living around 50% higher than the Yugoslav average. Croatia was also less affected by the Yugoslav wars than either Bosnia or Serbia. The country also benefits from a booming tourism industry. Unemployment is high, however, at 18.6%, only Spain and Greece have higher in the EU.

On the 3rd of December, 2013, Croatians voted in a referendum to add a provision to their constitution which defines marriage as between ‘one man and one woman’ after a citizens initiated referendum on the subject. This was not supported by the current centre-left government and is a stark reminder that Croatia is still broadly socially conservative.

Electoral System

This will be Croatia’s first full MEP election, with a special by-election held in 2013 on the country’s entry into the EU. Croatia will elect 11 MEPs, down from 12 in 2013.

Croatia uses semi-open lists, so that parties generally get seats in proportion to their vote. Voters may cast preference votes for individual candidates. Candidates winning more than 10% of their party’s vote may be elected ‘out-of-order’.

Turnout in the 2013 by-elections was extremely low at only 20.8%, a record only beaten by the 2004 Polish election. However, that may have been because MEPs elected in 2013 would only be elected for one year.

2013 Election Result

Party European Political Party Votes Seats
Croatian Democratic Union & Allies European People’s Party & European Conservatives and Reformists 32.9% 6
Social Democratic Party of Croatia & Allies Socialists and Democrats & Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 32.1% 5
Croatian Labourists – Labour Party European United Left 5.8% 1

Other notable lists: Alliance for Croatia.

Likely results

With 11 seats up for grabs it is likely that the HDZ-led alliance will lose at least one seat. This will likely come from the HDZ itself. European parliament polls are not available but national polls show a close battle between the Kukuriku coalition and the HDZ-led alliance. The polls in the national election mostly show Kukuriku slightly ahead, but the HDZ may benefit from repeat low turnout. With the Labourists seemingly certain to keep their seat it may be the case that the two big alliances each get 5 seats each (though with her strong personal support, it is likely that the HSP-AS’s MEP will be likely to keep her seat).

The other scenario is that the Labourists could snatch a second seat with a strong performance, likely taking one from the second-placed coalition, or the Alliance for Croatia could win a seat, doing the same.