Aware of the fact that the positive and negative view of the processes I am commenting on is inevitably different from the position of every Croatian citizen, I will try to give my personal view and the view of a Reformist.
My view of this moment is enriched but also limited by the experience of a citizen, businessman and politician with 9 electoral mandates in the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia and the experience of several ministerial mandates and the mandate of a regional leader.
The citizens of Croatia live in a country which, politically, economically, legally and to a large extent in other areas of life, is completely dominated by one party – the HDZ (member of the European People’s Party). Since independence, the HDZ has continuously governed (with short interruptions) a highly centralised state and a large part of local and regional self-government.
The party’s membership is 8% of the total electorate and, of course, it also receives indirect support from family voters.
By controlling ¾ of all financial flows, whether through direct state spending or indirectly through investments by the state or state enterprises, the HDZ controls related and conditional employment, from management to all other levels. It is clear and inevitable that the quality of leadership, and thus the development capacity of the country, is reduced to the suitability of the party. Thus, the development capacity has been reduced to below mediocrity, accompanied by political blackmail and all kinds of corruption.
All of this is monitored by the networked police system and the judiciary, which, according to European research, is the least trusted of all the country’s institutions, with only 0.8% of citizens having confidence in it.
The awareness that we live in an unjust, badly and corruptly run one-party state, regardless of the facade of a democratic and legal state, has led to the biggest wave of emigration in a European Union country in the last 10 years.
In this wave, Croatia lost 10% of its demographically and educationally best and most powerful part of the population.
In contrast to the mainly economic emigration of the sixties and seventies of the last century, whole families are leaving the country in this wave of emigration.
Unfortunately, the consequences of the decade of the HDZ’s model of governance before joining the EU, and its continuation now, in this very decade, with the ease of exit and employment in the EU, have come home to roost, threatening the very survival of the nation.
At the same time, taking into account the balance received so far from the European Union funds and the Republic of Croatia’s payments to the EU budget, and the absence of a net difference in customs revenues (considering that Croatia is twice as much an importer of goods as an exporter to EU countries), Croatia is in deficit, even without calculating the losses from financing the health and education of the lost population.
Paradoxically, the very fact that the Croatian state has been deprived of the right to spend its own public money without external control (because it now goes through European funds) is a positive development.
Aware of European non-transparency and corruption, we are still witnessing the introduction of rules and control mechanisms that are significantly better than the Croatian standard for the use of public money.
This is confirmed by the fact that a large part of the current corruption trials against a number of ministers of the current HDZ government and other officials were initiated by the European OLAF, even against the decisions of the HDZ judiciary.
These trials have been started at the very moment when projects financed by European funds are being implemented, so European control is stronger.
Today, 80% of public investments in Croatia are realised with European money (mainly ours), which fortunately means that the contracts and their realisation are subject to European rules and control.
The tragedy, of course, is that the Croatian government has neither the vision nor the strength to initiate and implement even those development projects that are economically viable without a single euro of so-called European money.
With the entry into the European Union, the smaller part of entrepreneurs who were independent from the state, as well as those who grew up in dependence (and always had a natural tendency to move away from it), are given space for growth and development, and this is clearly recognised in the Croatian economy. Foreign investment has also contributed to at least a partial departure from the incompetent and corrupt state.
Of course, this is gradually changing the social and political climate and relations, which is also visible in the HDZ’s regional strength, i.e. the area of greater or lesser possible blackmail with public money or employment. In more economically developed and export-oriented environments, there is less room for blackmail.
Of course, we can only hope that the process of transforming Croatia from a partisan state into a mature democratic society will be faster than the arrival of the moment when we will find ourselves below the point of demographic recovery.
In the context of the above, it is clear that entry into the Eurozone and Schengen are strong positive incentives for economic and social progress as a whole.
Croatia from the first day of independence until 1 January 2023. 2023, Croatia was neither able nor willing to conduct its own monetary policy, with all its potential advantages and risks. From day one, the governors of the Croatian National Bank have been highly sceptical of the politicians running the country. That is why, perhaps fortunately, from day one we were pegged first to the DM and later to the euro, and we never took advantage of the potential benefits of our own monetary policy. Of course, because we were not in the euro zone but tied to the euro, we had higher interest rates and a number of other collateral damages.
So, with all the risks, we believe that joining the eurozone is a positive step.
As Croatia derives 20% of its GDP (by far the highest in the EU) from tourism, it is clear that joining the Schengen area will bring serious benefits in terms of easier movement of tourists. The benefits in terms of the flow of goods, as well as a number of other benefits, are undeniable. Both I personally and we as a party support accession.
Radimir Čačić, president of the Croatian political party NS Reformisti.