Croatia

   

Executive Accountability

#36
Key Findings
With a number of notable weaknesses, Croatia falls into the bottom ranks (rank 36) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has risen by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

Citizens’ policy knowledge is on average comparatively limited. While most media are focused on entertainment, a few newspapers do provide good coverage of political and economic affairs. The two leading commercial TV broadcasters enjoy significantly higher levels of trust than the public broadcaster.

Parliamentarians have limited resources. Oversight powers are formally sufficient, but sometimes disregarded by ministers. The Audit Office is independent, with a wide-ranging scope of activity, but the government tends to react slowly to Ombudsperson requests. The data-protection authority has been overwhelmed by GDPR-related administrative tasks, leaving little capacity for enforcement.

Political parties are dominated by their leadership ranks. Trade unions have become more active, but have focused on salary hikes rather than broader policy proposals. A number of other interest organizations have sophisticated policy-development capabilities.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#39

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
4
Citizens’ policy knowledge in Croatia is limited. Most citizens show only minimal interest in the workings of government and politics. Moreover, the media situation makes it difficult to obtain detailed information on specific government policies. According to the latest Reuters Digital News Report, Croatia has the largest percentage of citizens who actively avoid news (more than 50%) among a sample of 30 countries.

Citations:
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2019): Digital News Report 2019. Oxford (https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2019-06/DNR_2019_FINAL_0.pdf).

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
7
Croatia began in mid-2011 its formal participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), as a voluntary international initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. A special council known as the Council for the Open Government Partnership Initiative of the government was established as a centralized hub for communication between implementing and monitoring stakeholders. The OGP Council is responsible for the coordination of Croatia’s national action plan with expert and administrative support provided by the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs. The implementation responsibilities are spread among a large group of government institutions, including the parliament. In 2015, the Open Data Portal of Croatia was established which tried to offer in a single place all data related to public administration and became an integral part of the e-citizens project. Some key institutions that provide publicly accessible data such as the State Audit Office and the Croatian Bureau of Statistics do so in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#23

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
6
The members of the Croatian parliament (Sabor) are supported by some parliamentary staff. The Sabor has an Information and Documentation Department that keeps track of the Sabor’s legislative activity and responds to queries for information from members of parliament and parliamentary staff about bills in progress and transcripts of plenary sessions. There is also a parliamentary library with various collections in the fields of law, politics, history, economics and sociology. However, the support staff for individual members of parliament is relatively small, as the budget of the Sabor allows for a secretary for every parliamentary group and one additional adviser for every 15 group members. Moreover, the Sabor does not have an office for policy analysis, and formal legalistic thinking characterizes is prevalent among Sabor staff.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
7
According to Article 115 of the Standing Order of the Croatian Parliament (Sabor), any working bodies of the Sabor may “seek a report and data from ministers of state or officials who administer the operations of other state administrative bodies,” and ministers are obliged “to report on issues and affairs within the authority of the ministries or other state administrative bodies, to submit a report on the execution and implementation of laws and other regulations and the tasks entrusted to them, to submit data at their disposal, or data they are obliged to collect and record within the scope of their duties, as well as records and other documents necessary to the work of parliament or its working body, to respond to posed questions.” However, these rights are seldom exercised in practice. The most commonly used supervisory mechanisms are oral or written questions to the government.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
7
Parliamentary committees can and do summon ministers for hearings. However, these hearings are not always taken seriously by ministers.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Croatia is one of the rare countries where experts can be named as outside members of parliamentary committees, and this has become a regular practice. The Committee for International Relations, the Committee for European Integration and the Committee for Internal Affairs and National Security are the only exceptions to this rule.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
8
In the current parliamentary term, the number of committees has substantially exceeded the number of ministries. However, this discrepancy stems largely from the existence of committees that deal with internal parliamentary affairs such as the Credentials and Privileges Committee, Interparliamentary Cooperation Committee, and Petitions and Appeals Committee. The task areas of the other parliamentary committees largely match those of the ministries, thus enabling an effective monitoring.

Media

#31

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
As a result of the rise of media conglomerates and the dominance of foreign owners, the Croatian media sector is highly commercialized. Though this does not necessarily mean that those media outlets sacrifice in-depth analysis due to excessive reliance on infotainment. In a society in which television is still the most important source of information, it is noteworthy that two leading commercial televisions enjoy significantly higher levels of brand trust than the public broadcaster HRT. The daily newspapers Jutarnji list and Vecernji list provide relatively broad coverage of Croatian political, economic and social affairs, although their quality is far behind world-class newspapers, such as Die Welt or The Guardian. Internet portals such as Index.hr and Telegram have made a large contribution to revealing corruption affairs and the misuse of public funds. They have a rather strong followership.

Parties and Interest Associations

#38

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
4
Croatian parties are characterized by a rigid structure. The degree of intra-party democracy is generally low, members do not regularly participate in party activities and the party leadership maintains considerable control over selection procedures and debates. In the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), no internal elections took place until April 2016. While the party’s chairman has been elected directly by party members ever since, the latter have not had the chance to choose between different candidates due to high formal and informal barriers. These barriers include the need to collect 11,000 signatures in order to become an official candidate. Incumbents also have substantial leverage over intra-party rivals due to widespread clientelism and the potential to punish party members who do not toe the existing party line. The threshold and barriers mentioned above are not as high in the second largest party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP is somewhat more open to internal debates, but does not tolerate the existence of open political blocs.

Citations:
Ćelap, K., D. Nikić Čakar (2017): Unutarstranačka demokracija u Hrvatskoj: (Ne)moć običnih članova u procesu stvaranja stranačkih politika, in: Politička misao 54(3): 80-107.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
3
Trade unions cover about one-quarter of employees. Union membership is declining and is higher in the public than in the private sector. Like most other economic interest associations, trade unions have focused on opposing government proposals, but have lacked the will and ability to develop their own proposals. In 2019, trade unions became more active and the three trade union confederations – Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), Independent Trade Unions of Croatia (NHS) and Association of Croatia Trade Unions (Matica) – led a campaign to collect signatures for a petition to hold a referendum on changes to the pension system reform. The teachers’ unions orchestrated a strike in 2019. Like other public sector trade unions, however, they have failed to propose measures to improve the quality of public services and have focused only on securing salary hikes.

There is only one representative association for employers, the Croatian Employers’ Association (HUP). The HUP carries out some policy analysis relating to institutional reforms. The HUP publishes thematic articles through its newspaper and electronic bulletin. It presents positions on current economic themes through press conferences and media campaigns. However, effective coordination between HUP members in designing their own solutions or seriously challenging government is lacking, since many employers are heavily dependent on state contracts. The Chamber of Trades and Crafts, which has been particularly vocal in making proposals concerning vocational education, has played a more constructive role.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
A number of social-interest organizations in Croatia have the capacity to propose relevant policy proposals. For instance, experts from Citizens Organize to Oversee Voting (Građani organizirano nadgledaju glasanje, GONG), an association of various organizations for the protection and promotion of human rights originally formed in 1997, have participated in the process of drafting various laws on lobbying and elections. Green Action (Zelena Akcija) is another example of a social-interest organization with strong analytical capacity and the ability to promote its issues in the media. Recently, the NGO Franak has played a very important role in gathering debtors and former debtors in order to sue foreign banks for alleged malpractices in issuing CHF loans since 2005.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#33

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
6
The Auditor General is elected by the parliament (Sabor) for an eight-year mandate and can be removed by the Sabor only if he or she is unable to conduct his or her work or is convicted for a criminal act. The Audit Office reports to the Sabor at the end of every fiscal year. It undertakes a broad range of audits (approximately 300 every year) and acts independently. Since 2019, it can also covers the operations of the Croatian National Bank (HNB) – an extension of its remit seen by the European Central Bank as compatible with central bank independence. Ivan Klesic, the auditor general, was reappointed for a further eight-year term in December 2018. The reports of the auditor general are carefully crafted, and often identify inefficiencies and irregularities in spending taxpayers’ money. The auditor general can inform the State Attorney’s Office about cases of fraud. In 2018, however, one-third of all 258 recommendations or decrees issued by the auditor general were ignored by the public entities concerned. Since 2019, the auditor general can impose fines on recalcitrant and non-compliant public entities. However, these fines remain too small to significantly alter existing behavior patterns and processes.

Citations:
ECB (2018) Opinion of the European Central Bank of 26 October 2018 on the legal framework of the State Audit Office. European Central Bank, CON/2018/45, Frankfurt, M.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
5
The institution of the People’s Ombudsman was introduced with a special constitutional law in 1992, and the first ombudsman started his mandate in 1994. According to Article 2 of the Ombudsman’s Act, the Ombudsman is “a commissioner of the Croatian Parliament for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms laid down in the constitution, laws and international legal acts on human rights and freedoms accepted by the Republic of Croatia.” He or she is appointed by the Croatian parliament (Sabor) for a term of eight years and can be reappointed. In 2003, separate ombudspersons for children and gender equality were established. In 2008, an Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities followed. Croatia thus has a differentiated system of ombudspersons. In order to foster cooperation among them, a special agreement was signed by all ombudspersons in 2013.

In 2018, unlike in the previous year, the Sabor endorsed the annual reports of all ombudspersons. Lora Vidović, the current ombudsperson for human rights, made more than 200 recommendations for improving the enforcement of human rights. It is encouraging that the 2018 Annual Report states that 65% of recommendations issued by the People’s Ombudsman (PO) were taken into account by various state bodies, significantly more than in 2017. However, the PO listed five fundamental social problems that strongly affected the status of human rights in Croatia: poverty, lack of information about the rights, unequal access to the rights, lack of trust in institutions, and intolerance and lack of dialogue. Notwithstanding the parliamentary endorsement, however, many government institutions do not react promptly to the Ombudsman’s requests, with requests often left pending for considerable time. Even more worryingly, the Ombudsman Lora Vidović reported several times that the Ministry of the Interior had repeatedly denied her access to information relating to police treatment of migrants.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
6
The Croatian Personal Data Protection Agency (AZOP) established in 2004 was based on the Personal Data Protection Act adopted in parliament in 2003, by which the protection of personal data in the Republic of Croatia was regulated for the first time. The agency is a supervisory body tasked primarily with overseeing personal data protection. The agency monitors those who gather personal data collections that process personal data and warns them of unauthorized processing of personal data. The agency has the authority to order the removal of irregularities, it can temporarily prohibit the processing of personal data, order the deletion of personal data and prohibit their removal from the Republic of Croatia. The Croatian Law on Implementation of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was passed in April 2018 in parliament. The new law prescribes the agency’s duty to publish website final and binding decisions, without anonymization of the offender’s data, if a data breach is committed in relation to data on children, special categories of personal data, an automated individual decision, in cases of profiling or if an offender is charged in excess of HRK 100,000. In order to get companies and state institutions to implement and reach compliance with the GDPR regulation, the agency organized in 2018 more than 30 advisory activities, involving nearly 2,000 representatives of the processing manager and personal data protection officers. In its annual report to the parliament, the agency pointed out that a large number of companies essentially ignore GDPR compliance. This is mostly observable in the tourism and healthcare sectors. As a result, it requested that the Croatian Employers’ Association be more involved in implementing the GDPR. Overall, AZOP remains rather ineffective in data protection since it is overwhelmed with administrative tasks and the processing of a large number of questions on behalf of various state agencies, which lack competent GDPR compliance officers. Therefore, due to the lack of enforcement capacity, serious offenders have been able to avoid financial penalties for breaching data privacy.
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