• Croatia joined the EU in July and promptly fell foul of EU budget rules (Photo: JasonParis)

  • Neven Mimica - set to run for a seat in the EP (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Post EU Elections

Croatian politicians chase coveted EP seats

19.02.14 @ 09:07

  1. By Hrvoje Appelt

Zagreb - With a monthly salary of €6,700 plus daily expenses, most Croatian citizens perceive employment as a Member of the European Parliament as one of the best paid, most coveted and most comfortable positions on offer in government service.

That is partly why there were 28 lists with 336 candidates in April 2013 when Croatians chose their MEPs for the first time.

There is likely to be even more candidates in this spring's European election.

After all the country has been engulfed by economic, social and political crisis. Poverty and hunger threaten as much as a third of the population and more people are emigrating than migrating to the country.

Statistics show that since the beginning of the year 476 people lose their job every day. The number of unemployed is 380,000 out of a population of 4.4 million and every post advertised by the Croatian Bureau of Employment is sought by 50 registered job seekers.

Meanwhile economists predict another year of crisis.

Croatia's entry to the EU limit budget deficits

As soon as Croatia entered the EU in July, it fell foul of EU budget rules, which require that budget deficits not be greater than 3 percent of GDP.

The European Commission recently opened a special procedure – known as the excessive deficit procedure – against the country.

The Institute of Public Finance expects the procedure to stay in place until 2017, with any serious measures to cut spending and implement structural reform only likely to take place after national elections in 2015.

Ahead of the country’s first elections to the European Parliament in 2013 – before it became a member state – the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP), the main government coalition partner, made big pledges on the economy.

As there were no signs of these promises becoming a reality, dissatisfied citizens punished the SDP in the first EU vote.

This meant that its main rival, the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), sneaked ahead with 0.75 percent more of the votes.

And this was despite the HDZ being embroiled in a full-blown political scandal. The party is facing legal proceedings for putting €3.9 million from state-owned companies into a slush fund.

In addition HDZ's former president, and former Croatian prime minister, Ivo Sanader, was imprisoned for accepting a bribe of €10 million from the Austrian Hypo Bank. Sanader is now a suspect in several other cases involving allegations of abuse of power and corruption.

The HDZ representatives, who won 32.86 percent of the vote in the 2013 European Parliament election, remain potential candidates this year.

They are Andrej Plenkovic; Dubravka Suica, who with 111 appearances in plenary is the most active Croatian MEP; Ivana Maletic; Zdravka Busic and Davor Stier.

Upon election to the European Parliament, all of these politicians joined the centre-right European People's Party.

Eurosceptic no longer welcome

A sixth politician Ruza Tomasic – known for strongly nationalistic statements – is no longer welcome on the HDZ list this time round. Tomasic hails from the extreme right-wing Croatian Party of Rights, A Starcevic.

She joined the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group in 2013.

It is her membership of that political faction in the EU parliament that ruffled feathers with the centre-right in the EU assembly - despite the fact that she received the most votes on the list.

In an interview published in Vecernji newspaper, Joseph Daul, president of the European People's Party, said that due to Tomasic's "eurosceptic attitude" she could not run alongside HDZ for the EU parliament.

But despite Daul's warning, HDZ president Tomislav Karamarko has not yet said whether Tomasic will be on their list for the EU Parliament.

He is plainly still waiting for a response from Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who could be the HDZ star in the May vote.

A former foreign minister, Grabar-Kitarovic is currently assistant secretary general for public diplomacy at Nato.

The list is also set to include Marijana Petir from the partnering Croatian Peasant Party (HSS).

Karamarko recently also asked for the support of the socially conservative Zeljka Markic, president of the civil initiative "In the Name of Family".

Markic is currently considered a rising political force in Croatia. She recently initiated a referendum on marriage which changed the Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

New conservative political group confident of success

Markic has not, however, donated her political capital to the HDZ. Instead she has given it to the new conservative political group, Alliance for Croatia.

The Alliance is made up of eight parties, including Markic's former Croatian Growth party, Hrast. The others are Alliance for Changes, Croatian Peasant Party, Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, Croatia Party of Rights, Croatian Dawn, Family Party and Vow for Croatia.

They see the European Parliament elections as an opportunity to demonstrate the new political balance of power and they intend to take a portion of right-wing voters.

Vladimir Sisljagic, the first coordinator of the Alliance, is bullish about the likelihood of electoral success in the upcoming European, and subsequent national elections.

Announcements this week

The major political parties plan to announce their European Parliament candidates this week.

The SDP – IDS (Istrian Democratic Center) – HNS (Croatian People’s Party) and the Croatian Party of Pensioners (HSU) are expected to run on a common platform.

The head of the list is likely to be Neven Mimica, currently EU health commissioner and former Europe minister.

The list will include the current MEP Tonino Picula, former minister of external affairs, Jozo Rados (HNS) and Ivan Jakovicic (IDS). Milorad Pupovac from the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) may also come onboard.

The list will also hold one representative from the pensioners party (HSU), as well as current MEPs Sandra Petrovic Jakovina and Oleg Valjalo. Marino Baldini will not be running for European Parliament again.

Croatian voters will elect 11 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on 25 May.