Thursday

19th Apr 2018

Croatia PM struggles to tame own party

  • Former diplomat Andrej Plenkovic became prime minister in October (Photo: Consilium)

Croatia's new prime minister has promised to ease growing political tensions in the country and in the region, but his first weeks in office have shown it will not be easy.

Andrej Plenkovic, a former diplomat and until recently an MEP, became prime minister in a coalition government on 19 October, five weeks after winning a snap election.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He has tried to present himself as the leader of a more moderate Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a nationalist right-wing outfit that was the main party in the previous government.

HDZ leaders were embroiled in a series of public spats during the last government's tenure, fostering a rise in nationalist rhetoric, tolerating verbal attacks on minorities and threatening to crack down on free speech.

So far, Plenkovic has overseen "an obvious improvement in decency" in public discourse, analyst Zarko Puhovski told EUobserver.

Taxes and factions

He has chosen ministers largely from the moderate arm of the HDZ, jettisoned divisive figures from the previous cabinet, and promised to create "political stability, rule of law, economic growth and development" as well as improving "social solidarity, justice and inclusiveness".

But he has missed obvious opportunities to act on this new-found moderation.

For example, he has failed to even respond to escalating attacks on the president of the Croatian journalists society, Sasa Lekovic, who recently had screws rammed into his car wheel.

And controlling even his closest allies in the HDZ is not always easy.

On 24 October, new foreign minister Ivo Stier attended a "pro-life" gathering with guests including Raymond Leo Burke, a US Catholic cardinal who advocates a complete abortion ban.

Stier said the gathering, which was organised ahead of a constitutional court debate on abortion, was "good for pluralism and democracy” and "healthy for the development of society".

For now, the prime minister has managed to control the right wing of his party "because he unexpectedly won the election", political analyst Puhovski pointed out.

But if the HDZ faction opposed to Plenkovic makes gains at the local elections organised in May next year, "there will be serious quarrels within the party", Puhovski said.

Given that his government has just announced hugely unpopular tax reforms - including VAT increases on bread, milk and medicines, and income tax changes expected to benefit the rich - it is possible that his popularity with the public will suffer.

Bosnian controversies

In the region, Plenkovic's alleged new style is also still a work in progress.

After rising tension between Zagreb and Belgrade, under the previous HDZ-led government, Serbia's prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said on 1 November that the "atmosphere is not easy" but that he hoped that relations would improve.

Earlier this year, the previous government tried to block Serbia's accession talks with the EU, and the two governments traded accusations of nationalism.

"Since relations last year were the worst since the 1990s, I'm sure the improvement is not only possible, but necessary. It became obvious that previous policies towards neighbours were not productive," Aleksandar Popov, director of Serbia-based NGO Centre for Regionalism, told this website.

The new government supports EU accession for Serbia and also Bosnia-Herzegovina because "Croatia doesn't want to remain an EU external border country", foreign minister Stier said.

Plenkovic's first visit abroad was to Bosnia.

In the capital, Sarajevo, he expressed his friendship and emphasised his government's will to help Bosnia on its EU path.

But in Mostar, which was the centre of the Croat-Bosniak war in the 1990s, he met only Croatian officials and Catholic dignitaries, not Bosniaks.

Just after his visit, the Bosniak member of the Bosnian presidency Bakir Izetbegovic accused Plenkovic of supporting Bosnian Croats' longtime requests for more federalisation that he said are contrary to the constitution.

Plenkovic said that his government opposed the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but would support "political representatives finding the best solutions" for power sharing between the country's communities.

The new prime minister has also had to react to the arrest of 10 former Bosnian Croat soldiers on war crimes charges.

He said his government would "protect the country's legitimate interests and any human rights that could be violated".

The reaction was "expected, because they want to show they protect Croats” in Bosnia, Mile Lasic, a political scientist at Mostar University, told this website.

"But defending 'our heroes' in advance, even if they are not heroes, just prolongs the agony in Bosnia-Herzegovina, preventing empathy for war victims of other nationalities and developing selective collective memory," he said.

Analysis

Croatian election fuels regional tensions

Despite some conciliatory voices, Croatia's latest election has been overshadowed by nationalistic rhetoric, irking its neighbour, Serbia.

Same old scandals drag down Croatia's government

Scandals over oil money and World War II history, attacks on democratic standards risk unseating Croatia's government in a confidence vote just five months after it took office.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

Threat to collapse Fico coalition after journalist killing

Junior coalition partner Most-Hid wants Slovaks to vote for a new parliament, after the killing of a journalist. "If talks about early elections fail, Most-Hid will exit the ruling coalition," its leader Bela Bugar said.

Analysis

Orban, the 'anti-Merkel', emboldens European right

Hungary's premier Viktor Orban has inspired 'illiberalism' across central Europe and far-right politicians in the West. His expected re-election this Sunday will further reinforce his standing as a symbol for being tough on Europe's political mainstream.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  2. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  3. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  4. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  5. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  6. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  7. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit
  8. Merkel and Macron meet to finetune eurozone reform plans

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeParabéNs! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  2. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  3. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  4. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  5. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  6. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  10. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector

Latest News

  1. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  2. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  3. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  4. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists
  5. Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study
  6. Selmayr case scars Parliament and Commission
  7. Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties
  8. 'Flobert' guns - Europe's latest terror loophole

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  2. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  3. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  4. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  5. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  6. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  7. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  8. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  9. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  11. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  12. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership