EU membership has been the primary political goal for most Croats for years, and all Croatian governments – led by both HDZ and SDP – have worked intensively on its realisation. But today, roughly five years after becoming part of the EU, Croatia is facing the opposite trend – Euroscepticism is growing stronger,reports Jutarnji Liston May 8, 2018.
This is demonstrated by public opinion polls and the rise of those political parties and movements which focus on opposition to the EU and NATO membership. The latest is Živi Zid, which is now the third most popular party in the country and is quite open about demanding Croatia’s exit from the EU and NATO.
The latest Eurobarometer survey, published in November, showed that Croats are slowly turning their backs to the European Union. Indeed, Croatia is one of EU members with the stronger increase in anti-EU sentiment over the past year.
In the fall of 2017, the EU was seen positively by just 31 percent of respondents in Croatia, considerably less than the EU average which stood at 40 percent. On the other hand, 18 percent of respondents saw the EU negatively. That is somewhat lower than the EU-wide average, which is 21 percent, but still shows the strengthening of Euroscepticism in Croatia less than five years after accession.
The share of "neutral" respondents, which stood at 50 percent, was the highest in the EU with the exception of Latvia. This means that half of all Croats are not sure whether EU membership is a good or bad thing for the country.
“It is evident there has been a rise in Euroscepticism in Croatia. However, we have two opposite trends: while Euroscepticism is rising, on the other hand, many Croats are emigrating to other EU member states, and the emigrants also include Eurosceptics,” notes Željko Lovrinčević from the Zagreb Institute of Economics.
“Populist parties want to attract Eurosceptics because they realise that citizens cannot follow complex policies led by the EU. Supporting such movements is also perceived by citizens as a challenge to the prevailing political views,” says Ivan Rimac, a university professor and a political analyst. He adds that Brexit has also caused the growth in Euroscepticism in Croatia and other member states.
Eurosceptic messages, which used to be heard on the political margins, have now moved into the political arena, through Živi Zid and far-right political parties.
Euroscepticism was present during the pre-accession phase as well, mostly linked to the issue of cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal and the problem of co-operation between Croatia and countries in the Western Balkan region. However, these issues have been more or less resolved before Croatia joined the EU.
“I think this is more about a disappointment of many people. Expectations from membership were large, but they have not been realised. This is also seen in political relations: Croatia has disputes with almost all its neighbours, and it was expected that EU membership would strengthen our negotiating position. Now, however, it is clear that this has not happened,” says Lovrinčević, adding that people should not blame the EU for Croatia’s own failures. Corruption, nepotism and non-compliance with rules are just some of the problems which hinder Croatian society and have nothing to do with Brussels.
“We wanted to become something which we are not overnight, and now we have to face our weaknesses. But, instead of looking for causes in our own backyard, we are looking for them elsewhere, and the result is growing opposition to the EU. Similar processes will take place in other countries of Southeast Europe: after they join the European Union, they will get their own Živi Zids,” says Lovrinčević.
Another question is what would Croatia really get by leaving the European Union, especially when its neighbouring countries are already members of the Union or want to become one. “Such ideas are not very productive for Croatia’s development,” says Rimac.
Lovrinčević says that leaving the European Union, in the case of both Croatia and other continental members, is just a hypothetical question. The realisation of such a scenario would bring enormous costs. “That would mean shifting the whole social matrix. The costs of leaving the European Union would undoubtedly be great,” concludes Lovrinčević.
Simply put, it would be an adventure with enormous consequences, both for the lives of citizens and the state as a whole.
Translatedfrom Jutarnji List(reported by Adriano Milovan).