Assessment of the Reform Capacities of the Croatian Government, 2011 –2014 (an abstract)

This Report abstract represents a cursory assessment of the Government’s work with respect to the 112 demands over the course of three years of its term, from January 2012 to late-October 2014. The Report is based on the knowledge and experience of Platform 112 member organizations focused on the systematic monitoring of government institutions, public advocacy and provision of direct support to citizens. Active member organizations of the Platform have discussed and linked their individual assessments and have agreed upon the degree of each demand’s fulfillment.

Platform 112 is a coalition made up of 70 civil society organizations[1] that have been involved in human rights protection, democratization, peace-building, combating corruption and protecting public goods, especially the environment, for a number of years. The organizations have defined a list of priorities and concrete measures necessary to attain a Croatia where the rule of law is internalized as the basis for all actions by individuals, institutions and political elites and not just “going through the motions” during the EU accession period. These proposals were set out in the form of 112 demands addressed at all political options prior to the December 2011 parliamentary elections. We have expected consistency and political accountability on the part of the new Government, as well as all other political stakeholders and institutions, leading to substantial and lasting improvements in five interconnected priority areas:

  1. Stable, accountable and democratic governing institutions and equal access to justice for all;
  2. Quality of democracy;
  3. Combating corruption and protection of public interest;
  4. Equality and dignity of all people;
  5. Legacy of war, dealing with the past and peace-building.

This Report abstract represents a cursory assessment of the Government’s work with respect to the 112 demands over the course of three years of its term, from January 2012 to late-October 2014. The Report is based on the knowledge and experience of Platform 112 member organizations focused on the systematic monitoring of government institutions, public advocacy and provision of direct support to citizens. Active member organizations of the Platform have discussed and linked their individual assessments and have agreed upon the degree of each demand’s fulfillment.

Platform 112 would like to thank the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia for their help in monitoring the area of worker rights. Unlike in our previous Reports and public appearances, we will refrain from giving further detailed recommendations for improving the work of the authorities, since we believe it to be unrealistic to expect substantial reforms in the forthcoming election year.

The Report is being presented to the public at a time when the overall state of the nation is usually described with a number of drastically negative adjectives, such as disastrous, hopeless, desperate, conflict-ridden etc. In addition, any attempts at dialogue based in mutual recognition, listening and civil exchange of opinions seem impossible, since those who see differently are usually either treated with contempt or disqualified outright. Deeply aware of these circumstances, we shall not give up and shall not accept this long-term downward trajectory into the abyss as a situation with no alternatives. The Croatian state and society have to find a way out of the economic crisis, the impoverishment of an increasing number of citizens, the deterioration of fundamental values of democracy and rule of law – in short, a way out of hopelessness that immobilizes us and pulls us backwards. It is necessary to put an end to the struggle for political power for the sake of power, as well as manipulation in the name of ideologies that, oftentimes, not even their proponents believe in. It is necessary to stop with yelling and threatening, name-calling and agitating. Instead of lynching those who think differently, we propose and seek dialogue. A turn towards the inclusion of all those interested in common action for solidarity, tolerance and creativity is possible. We need to sit down and engage in dialogue, in the name of finding solutions for all of us living in Croatia today and all those who will live in Croatia after us.

General assessment of the work of the Croatian Government, in the period December 2011 – September 2014

A joint analysis has faced us with the fact that none of our demands have been fulfilled completely and that satisfactory improvements are only visible with respect to 16 demands, making up a saddening total of 14 per cent. Most proposals have either not been with any improvements at all, or the improvements made do not contribute to the situation in Croatia to any appreciable extent. Overall, the Government has obviously opted for inaction regarding the rule of law, quality of democracy, human rights protection, protection of public goods and dealing with the wartime past, although all of these were issues that found their way into the Government’s four-year Program.

In the beginning, we would like to point out the satisfactory changes, however few there may be, that we have advocated as Platform 112:

  1. Public gatherings in St. Mark’s square in Zagreb – in front of the Government, Parliament and Constitutional Court – have been enabled, with no incidents or violations of the right to public gatherings taking place in the last three years;
  2. Amendments to the Law on the Right to Access to Information have finally resulted in the establishment of the independent institution of the Information Commissioner, with the authority to carry out public interest tests and inspectional supervision of public bodies , as well as to sanction them for misconduct; still, the Commissioner’s budget remains insufficient and restricts her scope of work;
  3. The discrimination of same-sex couples in relation to married couples in Croatia has been drastically decreased with the passing of the Law on Life Partnerships, formulated through comprehensive consultations with experts and the LGBT community, despite substantial pressures from the neo-conservative movement that have resulted in a hetero-normative definition of marriage being imposed in the Constitution at a national referendum;
  4. The rights of wartime sexual violence victims have been recognized and their regulation has been started, with transport to court sessions being secured for victims and/or witnesses of war crimes;
  5. A new Law on the Voter Register and a new Law on Residency have been passed, reducing the possibilities for manipulating voter lists at polling stations and the number of fictitious voters in registries;
  6. Improvements have been made in the legal framework and coordinated supervision of political parties and campaigns by the State Electoral Commission, Ministry of Finance and the State Audit Office;
  7. The revised rules on media coverage of electoral campaigns have entered into force at the 2014 presidential elections, stressing editorial freedom and accountability, but neglecting to fully consider the recommendations coming from civil society organizations;
  8. The system of naming, evaluation, professional advancement and disciplinary action for judges and state attorneys has been has been improved;
  9. Amendments to the Law on the Ombudsman have been adopted;
  10. Certain legal improvements for protecting the human rights of persons with intellectual difficulties and persons with mental illnesses have been adopted, with respect to active voter right and right of association, review of procedures of denying legal capacity and oversight over forced institutionalization and treatment, with prospects of ensuring more support in autonomous decision-making;
  11. International development aid priorities have been established in co-operation with civil society organizations, who have also received financial support for sharing transition and post-war experiences with foreign countries;
  12. More investments into international development aid and civil components of peace-keeping missions are being made, in comparison to military assistance;
  13. The scope of public consultations in legislative processes has been increased, with new provisions on the obligation of reporting on consultations in force, though these innovations have still not been adopted as an integral part of the democratic practices of state institutions;
  14. The Law on Areas of Special State Concern has been amended to enable cases of unauthorized investments to be resolved with a higher level of owner rights protection;
  15. Specialized departments for labour rights have been established in courts of justice;
  16. A curriculum for civic education has been developed in cooperation with experts and civil society organizations, but has subsequently been rejected;

These achievements, while very important individually, are so few that they support the conclusion that the Government has made a choice not to introduce large-scale changes, despite its proclaimed goals of further democratizing and modernizing Croatia. Namely, the final tally of realized objectives in areas pertaining to Platform 112’s interests shows that most demands have been met with minimal improvements, without deeper impacts upon the quality of institutions’ work or the protection of citizens’ rights. Using a scale ranging from 0 to 3 points, with (0) signifying ‘inaction’, (1) ‘marginal, unsatisfactory improvements’, (2) ’satisfactory improvements’ and (3) ‘complete fulfillment of demands’, the Platform has rated the Government’s work in the following way:

 

Stable, accountable and democratic governing institutions and equal access to justice for all

0,9

Stability, predictability and fairness of proceedings, with equal access to justice for all

1,5

A public administration marked by integrity, professionalism and impartiality in meeting citizens’ needs

0,5

Effective and impartial non-partisan oversight over implementing reforms stemming from the EU Accession negotiations, especially, pertaining to Chapter 23

0

Quality of democracy

0,8

An education system that prepares school-goers for active citizenship

1

Work of public authorities based on principles of transparency and participation

0,6

A comprehensive reform of election legislation and access to the right to vote

0,7

Freedom of assembly and expression regulated in accordance with international standards of human rights protection , freedom of the press and accountability

0,8

Combating corruption and protection of public interest

0,4

Establishing a legal and institutional framework to effectively prevent and prosecute political corruption within public bodies

0,6

Protecting natural resources and public goods from capture by particular interests

0,2

Higher outlays for the educational system, enabling enrollment in kindergartens, schools and higher learning institutions to all citizens on equal terms

0,3

Equality and dignity of all people

0,5

Advancement and consistent implementation of legal provisions combating discrimination, including the application of prescribed sanctions

0,4

Advancement of the legal and institutional framework for the protection of citizens in risk of social exclusion, especially with respect to obligations stemming from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

 

0,4

Establishing effective mechanisms for realizing workers’ rights

0,5

Effective and truly independent civil oversight over the state security sector: military, police and intelligence services

0,3

Promotion of human rights and peace-building in Republic of Croatia’s foreign policy, through international development aid

1,4

Legacy of war, dealing with the past and peace-building

0,6

Effective and non-selective research and prosecution of war crimes

0,7

Establishing the fates of all missing persons on the territory of the former Yugoslavia

0,7

Assuming state responsibility for damages, unauthorized investments, housing provision and restoration of full rights for persons claiming tenant rights, as well as resolving status-related issues and providing labour rights for war victims

0,4

Overall, we must assess the Government’s work with respect to Platform 112 demands as unsatisfactory, due to a substantial gap between proclaimed goals and real actions. The causes for this gap seem to be an issue of knowledge and competence, especially in the area of leadership and strategic governance. The elected officials of this Government have obviously assumed their positions unprepared to carry out even the reforms promised in the EU accession period and advocated both while in the opposition and in the pre-election Plan 21; theses have included electoral reform, public administration reform, reform of local and regional self-government, a long-term media strategy, civic education, more effective human and minority rights protection, dealing with wartime injustices. The trend of staffing according to party belonging is still visible, leading to numerous cases of incompetent persons being appointed to highly responsible positions.

A key issue with the Government in power is a lack of vision and strategy for overall social development, manifesting itself further in a lack of substantial improvements, even in those areas where the Government’s proclaimed positions were very close to the Platform’s demands. The economic crisis, overlapping with the Government’s entire term, has not only not been overcome, but has often been used as an alibi for failure to carry out reform in other areas. Lacking funds were used as an excuse, but so was the relativization of the importance of the issues to be faced. Even when the political will was there, as in the case of introducing civic education, procedural concerns and delays have only served to strengthen the position of the subject’s conservative opponents, who have not missed the opportunity to attack the proposed curriculum in an organized fashion, especially targeting its components of gender equality and secularism. The end result was not only a resignation of the minister, but the entire policy being aborted, much to the pleasure of clerical circles. A political debacle of this magnitude is a clear indicator of the Government’s weakness and insecurity.

A trend of introducing market principles in governing the state is also evident; these choices, while never mentioned prior to the elections, were also rationalized by using the financial crisis as an excuse. Such an approach denigrates the role and the importance of the state as the one to guarantee the realization of public interest, protection of human rights, functioning of the welfare state and sustainable governance of natural resources. At the same time, paradoxically, the Government failed in actually empowering the market economy and making it less financially dependent on the state.

We are convinced that the causes of the economic and social crises – manifesting themselves in ever-deeper worldview conflicts and intolerance towards differing opinions – are fundamentally political. No improvements have been made in the model of governance, however much this Government has tried to differentiate itself from its predecessor. The rule of political elites, with parties governed by leaders whose authority cannot be questioned, has repeatedly resulted in appointing loyal but often incompetent staff to public positions, opening up the risk for clientelism and a lack of professional standards in public administration. Almost nothing has changed in terms of the public administration’s staffing practices, with political parties still effectively governing public companies but never assuming responsibility for their performance. Ultimately, these facts have also prevented civic participation from increasing by liberalizing the rules on referenda and reforming electoral legislation.

Despite the publicly proclaimed principle of transparency and the improvements made in certain areas, a thorough analysis has demonstrated that organized civil society is still being ignored, especially when considering “difficult issues”, such as Constitutional reform, reform of election legislation, referenda, granting concessions on highways or the policy towards religious communities. A democratic deficit caused by the centralization of decision-making processes is pervasive both at the national and at the EU level.

Giving up on the Government’s own political objectives has not been followed by assuming responsibility for failed policies, not only on part of the Prime Minister but also other heads of departments, who have informally cited the lack of approval from the top as the cause of their inaction. The incompetence of a single political leader cannot be used as a justification for the actions of an entire party or government. After three full years in power, at the beginning of an election year, we have no more reason to expect substantial changes – changes that the civil society organizations and citizens gathered around Platform 112 care about – from the Government.


[1] See Appendix 2 for a full list of Platform 112 signatories (members and supporting organizations).

Assessment of the Reform Capacities of the Croatian Government, 2011 –2014

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