Friday

20th Sep 2019

MEPs ask EU to probe Croatia on illegal lobbying allegations

  • Mr Sanader (l) made a good impression on Brussels officials (Photo: European Communities, 2008)

Three Socialist MEPs are asking the EU's antifraud office (Olaf) to look into allegations made by the former party treasurer of ex-Croatian PM Ivo Sanader that illegal money was used to lobby Brussels for speedy EU membership of his country.

The former premier, who was arrested in Austria last month and faces extradition on charges of corruption, allegedly used state firms to "collect bags of money" from private companies, which were in turn channelled to party coffers and also used to "lobby Brussels", Mladen Barisic, the former head of customs and party treasurer of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) told the Prosecutor's Office, according to Croatian media.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"This is not only a matter for Croatia. If the then Prime Minister used money in irregular ways to influence Brussels, it is also a matter the EU and Olaf should investigate," Swedish Socialist MEP Goran Farm told this website.

Mr Farm is one of the three euro-deputies who wrote the request, along with British MEP Ricahard Howitt and their Belgian colleague, Veroniqe De Keyser.

Mr Farm said this does not pose "extra hurdles" for the country's EU accession, which he still considered feasible on 1 July 2012. "It is rather a plus for Croatia to show they are prepared to deal with prominent people suspected of fraud. If they deal with this case seriously, there should be no problem [with the accession timetable]," he argued.

After its experience with Bulgaria and Romania, two countries that were ushered into the EU club without being fully prepared in terms of dealing with high level corruption and organised crime, the European Parliament is now putting "tough demands" on Croatian authorities, to make sure they are really ready to join.

Mr Farm said he was not a fan of replicating the EU commission's monitoring of justice reform and the fight against corruption that is in place in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, since the results were better obtained before accession. "We should clarify things in advance," he said.

Bucharest has already floated the idea that it may request the same kind of monitoring for Zagreb, as part of its broader set of threats in reaction to the news that it will not join the border-free Schengen area in March, as it had hoped to.

To some commentators in Croatia, this may not be such a bad idea. "It would be good to have a monitoring mechanism, because we won't be able to solve the corruption problem from within the HDZ," says Natasha Srdoc from the Adriatic Institute, a think-tank promoting clean government and free market reforms.

Ms Srdoc even argues in favour of having "visiting judges" from EU countries sit on the biggest cases, because the Croatian judiciary is too weak and subject to political influence to tackle high-level corruption. "The few cases that were started - including against Mr Sanader - were actually tipped off by foreign prosecutors. But no convictions have been pronounced and most of the suspects are at large," she said.

The lobbying money affair is no surprise to Ms Srdoc, who pointed to the fact that party funding is still not properly regulated in Croatia and that racketeering and money laundring has been ongoing in her country and in other Balkan states ever since the break-up of Yugoslavia.

In one prominent case, with ramifications in Germany and Austria, several politicians and generals are said to have embezzled and hidden money from arms deals with the Austrian Hype Alpe Adria Bank, which is now under investigation for money laundring.

As to the clean record of current Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, Ms Srdoc says this is questionable, since she was part of the government when Mr Sanader reportedly received the "bags of money" from front companies used to collect illegal fees for his party.

Rather, her anti-corruption drive, which led to the reshuffling of four ministers seen as corrupt, is motivated by the desire to win the general elections due later this year and to secure Croatia's EU accession.

For its part, Mr Sanader's family, which lives in Austria, denies any wrongdoing. Mr Sanader's brother, who is a priest, said he does not hold any dubious savings in his bank accounts as suggested in the media. And Mirjana Sanader, the wife of the former Prime Minister, told Austrian newspaper Kurier that her husband is innocent and that she and her daughter are practically "under house arrest."

"I do not believe that there will be a fair trial," she said.

Opinion

Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril

Matteo Salvini's recent gambit may have failed but, in his own words: "From today you will find me even more pissed off and determined. I will go from town to town and we will take this country back."

Opinion

Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration

Brussels' current vision for cooperation on defence, where third countries can contribute but have no say in decision-making and in the guidance of operations, is unlikely to be attractive to the UK.

Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds

National governments have a "crucial role" to prioritise low-carbon cities to tackle climate challenges and secure economic prosperity since high-carbon systems are expected to become unprofitable or inoperable in the near future.

News in Brief

  1. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  2. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  3. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  4. Germany takes carbon border tax on board
  5. Austria to veto EU trade deal with South America
  6. Brexit minister asks EU for 'flexibility' to secure a deal
  7. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  8. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Podcast

Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  2. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  3. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  4. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  5. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  6. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  7. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  8. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us