Analysis by CBR Editor Brian Gallagher
Croatia has just elected 11 MEPs to take their place in the European Parliament when Croatia enters the European Union. Effectively, it was the EU’s 2009 elections come late for Croatia. They will only be in place until the next EU elections next year. The results reveal not only a snapshot of current Croatian attitudes towards domestic politics but also towards the European Union.
Some 24 lists of candidates stood for election. Under Croatia’s proportional system, seats are allocated to share of the votes. Further, the voters can choose their preferred candidate on the list rather than the controllers of the party lists deciding.
On latest figures, in Croatia on a 20.83% turnout, the opposition HDZ-HSP AS, BUZ list took 32.87% of the vote, gaining 6 seats. The government coalition SDP-HNS-HSU list took 32.07% of the vote, gaining 5 seats. The Croatian Labour Party, Hrvatski Laburisiti – Stranka Rada list, took 5.76% of the vote, gaining 1 seat. All the other lists failed to achieve a seat.
This is a reversal of the expected result of the SDP led list taking 6 seats with the HDZ led list taking 5 seats. This is not unusual as the HDZ is often underestimated in opinion polls and predictions. The HDZ lead was slight – less than 1% – but that made all the difference, as it did here by one seat.
For Croatian domestic politics, the result heralds the official end of the government coalition honeymoon period with the voters. A number of scandals and lack of movement on the economic front have clearly taken its toll. For the HDZ led opposition coalition, this is good news. However, it is probably due to the ineffectiveness of the current government rather than to HDZ skill.
The HDZ left many economic problems after their term of office and were beset by corruption scandals. Indeed, former HDZ Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is still on trial, providing continuing bad publicity for the party. Nonetheless, the HDZ have shown they are still a serious electoral force. The ruling coalition will be unnerved, and no doubt anxious about next month’s local elections.
Those local elections – being less remote to the electorate than the EU parliament – will probably see a higher turnout. Given the different dynamics and local personalities, the result may not be similar, but certainly the HDZ will be buoyed up and hoping to do better. That election will be well worth watching.
In terms of how Croats regards the European Union, the low turnout says it all. One even wonders if Croatia is trying to outdo the British for Euroscepticism. Croatia’s turnout of 20.83% was lower than the UK turnout of 34.7% in the 2009 EU elections. As it stands, the Croatian turnout is on a level of with Slovakia (19.64%) and Lithuania (20.98%.) Even much maligned Romania and Bulgaria had higher turnouts. And it’s less than half the average EU 2009 turnout of 43%.
There are many reasons for this, not least perhaps long memories of the EU indulging Slobodan Milosevic during the war in Croatia. However, much of the Croat’s antipathy is probably based on many of the same grounds as that of other EU citizens – the spectacle of the Eurozone crisis being an obvious one.
Many Croats are pragmatic. Their non-voting does not mean they would rather leave the EU. Rather, they see themselves as part of the European mainstream in preference to the ‘Balkans’. However, they clearly have little or no love for the EU or the Brussels bureaucracy. They are also no doubt less than amused at having to appoint members of their little respected political class to well paid jobs in Brussels.
Of course, the Croatian political class is rather more pro-EU than its populace. However, they may eventually change to reflect the voters. One thing that may be taken from these election results is that Croatia could become one of the more Eurosceptic members of the EU.