Croatia

   

Quality of Democracy

#34
Key Findings
While electoral procedures are largely fair, Croatia receives comparatively low scores (rank 34) with regard to quality of democracy. Its overall score in this area has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Recent campaign-finance laws have increased transparency, but enforcement is difficult, with many means of evading legal restrictions available. Public funding of parties has been reduced. Political influence over the media is strong, with reporters who criticize the government subject to dismissal. Media pluralism is quite limited.

Access to government information has substantially improved. Civil rights are formally protected, but Roma and ethnic-Serbian citizens face discrimination, and human-rights advocates are criticized. Active disinformation campaigns have targeted the LGTB community, undermining protection of their rights. Domestic war-crimes prosecutions remain biased.

Regulation is sometimes inconsistent and changes often. Courts lack independence, and a significant case backlog persists. Corruption remains a serious political problem, with high-profile politicians and public figures indicted, but with final sentences slow to be brought.

Electoral Processes

#32

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
9
Candidacy procedures are largely fair and do not suffer from major procedural restrictions. However, participation in parliamentary elections is easier for registered parties than for independent lists. Whereas the latter must collect a certain number of signatures, political parties must do so only for the presidential elections, as well as in local elections for prefects and mayors. A legal amendment which would have introduced uniform requirements was repealed by the Constitutional Court in a controversial decision shortly before the parliamentary elections in November 2015. One peculiarity of Croatian electoral law is that candidate lists can be headed by people who are not actually candidates.

Citations:
OSCE/ODIHR (2016): Election Assessment Mission Final Report Republic of Croatia: Parliamentary Elections 8 November 2015, Warsaw, 8-9 (http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/croatia/223631?download=true).

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
5
Amendments to the election law in February 2015 changed the legal framework for media coverage of parliamentary elections as part of an effort to end the “clogging” of the media space by minor candidates. As a result of the amendments, private broadcasters are no longer obliged to cover the campaign and public broadcasters can decide themselves whether to provide candidates proportional rather than equal coverage in reports and analysis. Moreover, debates among candidates have been restricted to only one per broadcaster. After the public broadcaster HRT decided to involve only five parties (a decision based on public opinion polls) for a scheduled debate in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary elections, the State Electoral Committee judged this decision to be arbitrary and the debate was canceled. Before the 2016 parliamentary elections, HRT broadcast a debate with only the leading candidates of the two biggest parties, thereby ignoring Most-NL’s strong showing in the previous elections and its strategic role. Most-NL and the smaller parties thus complained of discrimination. Several NGOs have argued for giving the Agency for Electronic Media of the Republic of Croatia a more important role in covering election campaigns in order to assist the State Electoral Commission in applying the media-campaign regulation provisions of the electoral law.

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
8
All citizens of voting age are entitled to participate in elections, and legislation on this issue is strongly inclusive. For example, prisoners are eligible to vote, and persons without legal capacity were allowed to participate for the first time in the April 2013 European Parliament elections. Before these 2013 elections, the highly outdated voting register was thoroughly cleaned. However, a controversial 2015 amendment to the Law on the Register of Voters limited the automatic registration of voters to those with a valid ID. A provision enabling Croatian citizens without permanent residence in Croatia to take part in national elections if they register in advance remains controversial. Upon coming to office in October 2016, Prime Minister Plenković announced to address the problem of the large differences in the number of voters per constituency, a fundamental lack of the electoral system in Croatia. In the period under review, however, no changes were initiated.

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
5
With the adoption of the Law on Political Parties and Campaign Funding in February 2011, the regulation of political finance has become more transparent and effective. The new law has made it obligatory to disclose party revenues and expenditures, introduced limits on private donations, donations from the business sector and campaign spending and established a ban on foreign donations. In order to limit the burden on the already strained budget, campaign financing for the snap elections in November 2016 was limited. After the elections, Most-NL insisted on a limit to public party financing as a precondition for forming a coalition with HDZ. As a result, the Law on Financing of Political Activates and Election Campaigns was amended in October 2016 with a view toward limiting the annual financing of political parties.

While the legal framework has improved, public control of party and campaign budgets has remained insufficient. The key problem in implementing effective bans on inappropriate campaign funding is the weakness in enforcing the law. In-kind services and various forms of indirect money transfers from the business sector mean that legal restrictions can be circumvented and make it difficult to obtain a clear picture of party finances. The monitoring capacity of the State Electoral Committee is weak, as it can open its own investigations only after having received official financial reports from political parties or individual candidates. While the State Audit Office has also begun to carry out systematic audits of the campaign budgets of political parties and individual candidates, it can neither conduct random audits nor react to external complaints.

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
6
While the law provides for some forms of popular decision-making, there is no strong tradition of organizing and holding referendums in Croatia. The Sabor, the Croatian parliament, can call a national referendum if it is proposed by at least 10% of the electorate. In the past, the Sabor has refused to do so even in cases of high-profile initiatives by war veterans (2000) and trade unions (2010). Local referendums have also been rare; only a few have ever taken place. However, the success of the referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage in early December 2013 ushered in a wave of initiatives in following years. In mid-June of 2018, conservative NGOs requested the Sabor to initiative two referendums. The initiative “The People Decide” called for the number of members of parliament to be cut from 150 to 120, for an increase in preferential voting on party slates from one to three votes, and for a restriction in minority members of parliament’s voting rights. The initiative “The Truth about the Istanbul Convention,” strongly supported by the Catholic Church, mobilized against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Asked by the Sabor to check the number and authenticity of the collected signatures and the lawfulness of their collection, however, the government found that more than one-tenth of the almost 750,000 signatures provided by the two initiatives were invalid, so that the required thresholds were missed. In February 2019, the Sabor eventually declined calling the two referendums.

Access to Information

#33

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
4
Media freedom in Croatia is limited. Political influence on the media is still fairly strong, as is the influence of private media owners. After the change in the governing coalition in May 2017, the HDZ intensified its control over the public media. In some cases, controversial journalists have been fired and critical programs discontinued. Interviews with the prime ministers and other cabinet members have become less confrontational. The case that attracted the most attention in the period under review was the dismissal of the journalist Hrovje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) who had served as executive editor of HTV 4, one of the TV programs of HRT, Croatia’s national broadcaster, after he had criticized the government for interfering with the broadcaster’s independence. The government has weakened independent media by delaying the allocation of EU funding for non-profit media.

Citations:
South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) (2018): Press Freedom in Croatia: Hate Speech and Hope for Change. Vienna (http://seemo.org/assets/pdf/Croatia-Report-final%203152018.pdf).

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
4
Media pluralism in Croatia is limited. The TV market is dominated by the public TV station Croatian Radiotelevision (Hrvatska radiotelevizija, HRT) and two private broadcasters, Nova TV and RTL. After some haggling, Nova TV was taken over by Slovenia Broadband, a subsidiary of United Media, in July 2018. While United Media had been forced by Croatia’s Electronic Media Council (AZTN) to sell its shares in Total TV, it also owns the N1 (cable) television and multimedia platform that has a growing audience in Croatia. The market for print media has likewise been dominated by a handful of companies.

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
8
The Right of Access to Information Act has been in place since 2003 and the legislative framework is relatively well established, thanks in particular to later amendments to the act. In October 2013, a long-standing demand by NGOs was met and Anamarija Musa, a public administration scholar, was appointed by parliament as the first commissioner for the right of access to information. Thanks to her efforts, access to information has significantly improved. More than 80% of the 5,900 distinct public authorities now submit the required regular reports on the enforcement of the act and about 85% have an information officer in charge of handling information requests. Transparency is lower at the local and regional level and in the case of public companies. In 2017, Croatian citizens submitted 22,226 requests for access to information. Their requests were met – fully or partially – in 85% of the cases. However, violations are rarely penalized. Commissioner Musa and others have criticized the fact that court procedures have been cumbersome, and courts have rarely passed verdicts against public authorities.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#36

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
5
Civil rights are formally protected by the constitution and other laws, but always respected in practice. The ombudsman and specialized ombudspersons play an important role in the protection of human rights. However, the ombudsman’s recommendations are not always carefully followed up on. The need to reduce the backlog of civil, commercial and enforcement cases is still pressing, and the demonization of human rights’ advocates has continued. The rights of tenants of Serbian ethnicity who were expelled from the country in 1995 remain an open issue, as the implementation of housing programs for returning refugees continues at a slow pace.

Citations:
Horvat, K., D. Kalamujić, A. Katavić, S. Sharifi, I. Vejić (2018): Human Rights in Croatia: Overview of 2017. Zagreb: House of Human Rights Zagreb.

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
7
In Croatia, political liberties are largely respected. There are laws that guarantee the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association. However, the Law on Public Assembly is more restrictive than in France or the United States, containing an obligation to outline the purpose of an assembly, and limiting spaces available for public assemblies. While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the criminalization of defamation, insult and shaming remains at odds with international standards

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
4
Although discrimination has been prohibited by several different legislative acts for some time, the new Anti-discrimination Act (ADA), which entered into force in 2009, was an important step. The new act prohibits discrimination in 10 specific areas of social life and distinguishes 17 different forms of discrimination. It has enabled new forms of judicial redress for cases of discrimination. The Ombudsman institutions have a large role in combating discrimination, and the Office of the Public Ombudsman serves as a central anti-discrimination body under the ADA. However, although discrimination is prohibited by the law, the legislation has not been fully implemented, and certain vulnerable groups still experience widespread discrimination. In particular, the Roma encounter discrimination in almost all areas of life, especially in education and employment. The rights of LGBT persons have been subject to pressures fueled by various types of disinformation about gender, sex and sexual orientation, often propagated by conservative NGOs and initiatives, such as the Truth about the Istanbul Convention initiative. According to the initiative’s backers, the Istanbul Convention promotes “gender ideology,” something they strongly oppose. All these processes have had a negative effect on the capacity of LGBT persons in Croatia to exercise their human rights.

Rule of Law

#32

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
5
The Croatian legal system puts heavy emphasis on the rule of law. In practice, however, legal certainty is often limited. Regulation is sometimes inconsistent and changes often, administrative bodies frequently lack the necessary legal expertise, and executive ordinances do not always comply with the original legal mandate. As a result, citizens often lack confidence in administrative procedures and frequently perceive the acts of administrative bodies to be arbitrary.

The number of pending criminal cases in the court system can be used as an indicator of the efficiency and predictability of the court processing system. According to Eurostat data, this number was on the decline in the period leading up to EU accession, falling from 819 pending criminal cases per hundred thousand people to 456 in 2013. Since then, the number has crept back up to 578. This is far greater than in many other EU countries. For civil and commercial cases, the situation is even worse with as many as 6,158 pending cases per hundred thousand people, which amounts to the second highest logjam in the EU.

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
5
Croatia has among Europe’s highest per capita number of judges and court personnel. The independence and quality of the judiciary were a major issue in the negotiations over EU accession. The number of courts were substantially reduced in 2014 and 2015. The long duration of judicial procedures and the high backlog of cases continue to be a major problem in Croatia’s judicial system. Subsequent ministries of justice have dealt with it in vain. Dražen Bošnjaković, HDZ’s incumbent minister, has also put it on the list of his main priorities, together with the digitalization of the judiciary. However, widespread skepticism regarding the Croatian judiciary’s independence continues to be the major issue at hand. Within the EU, Croatia has the lowest percentage of citizens and the second lowest percentage of business stakeholders who see their judicial system as being independent. The fact that in recent years a number of prominent individuals accused of crimes were acquitted has underscored the Croatian court’s lack of effectiveness and independence.

In Croatia, judges of ordinary courts are appointed by the National Judicial Council, an independent body consisting of 11 members – 7 judges, 2 university professors of law and two members of the parliament (one from the opposition). This composition has turned out to be debatable, because it is not certain whether this strategy can ensure the full independence of the judiciary branch in appointing judges. The problems with approach to appointing judges became clear in 2017, when a constitutional blockade of the National Judicial Council took place at one moment after the representatives of the government, and the opposition could not agree on the appointment of their respective members into this body. As a result, the work of the National Judicial Council was obstructed because reaching a majority required for decision-making became difficult. This is why legal experts suggest that citizens’ representatives be included in the Council instead of members of the parliament. These representatives, trained lawyers, would be proposed by the parliamentary Judiciary Committee.

Citations:
Dallara, C. (2014): Democracy and Judiciary Reforms in South-East Europe. Cham: Springer.

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
7
The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia has 13 judges who are elected for a term of eight years. Judges are appointed by the Croatian parliament (Sabor) on the basis of a qualified majority (two-thirds of all members of the Sabor). Prescribed by a constitutional law, the eligibility criteria are rather general and represent a minimum that candidates need to fulfill in order to apply. Candidates are interviewed by the parliamentary committee tasked with proposing the list of candidates to the plenary session. There is a notable lack of consistency in this interview process, as the committee does not employ professional selection criteria.

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
5
Corruption ranked high on the agenda of the accession negotiations with the European Union. Despite the Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2015-2020 adopted by the Croatian parliament in early 2015 and the Anti-Corruption Action Plan for 2017-2018 passed by the Ministry of Justice in mid-2017, corruption remains one of the key issues facing the political system. During the period under review, a number of high-profile corruption cases surfaced or were under investigation, involving, among others, a close aide to former Prime Minister Milanović and the most powerful man in Croatian soccer. The Agrokor case has also exposed the extent to which economic and political interests in the country co-mingle. While the main anti-corruption office, the Croatian State Prosecutor’s Office for the Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption (Ured za Suzbijanje Korupcije i Organiziranog Kriminala, USKOK) and the parliament’s commission for the conflict of interests have been quite active in opening and investigating cases, the courts have often failed to prosecute corruption either as a result of external pressure or a lack of competence. In most of the major corruption cases in which indictments were raised against high-ranking officials like former prime minister Sanader, incumbent Zagreb mayor Bandić and a number of former ministers and other officials, no final sentences have been brought yet. This fact has additionally shaken citizens’ confidence in the judiciary system and the government’s ability to prevent corruption.
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