The Absolute Worst: How Croatia Used European Funds to Fight Corruption
Although, according to the World Bank's indicators, Croatia lags behind not only OECD members in fighting corruption (and dramatically so!), but also behind the common average of countries in Europe and Central Asia, it has failed catastrophically in using European Social Fund (ESF) money earmarked for fighting corruption. This is one of the key findings of the independent external evaluation, which Nikola Buković of Gong details in this analytical report.
ESF funding for the fight against corruption in 2014-2020 was earmarked for the introduction of anti-corruption mechanisms in public administration and for strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to fight corruption.
The results of the external evaluation clearly show that the ESF in 2014-2020 was not used to seriously fight corruption in public administration and that the achievements on this front (if they can be called that at all) are mostly cosmetic and usually do not directly relate to fighting corruption, but to creating a more favorable environment for its prevention and suppression. Only in the case of the outcome directly related to the development of anti-corruption mechanisms in public administration, the evaluators note that no progress was made in the 2014-2020 period, i.e., no funded project contributed to this outcome.
When it comes to strengthening civil society in the fight against corruption, all that remains is a failed bidding process in which state agencies sought to fund associations to monitor corruption in cities, municipalities, and counties... in partnership with those same cities, municipalities, and counties. It is not surprising, then, that only 8 of the 70 or so applications received met the minimum score to be considered for funding, and not a single applicant has yet entered into a contract for project support... and they will not, since all projects in the current financial perspective must be completed by the end of 2023.
The conclusion is clear: when it comes to how Croatia fights corruption with ESF funds, there is one clear outcome - a pure zero, the worst of the worst. Progress can be made by (i) establishing robust anti-corruption mechanisms in the public administration; (ii) restoring the influence of some key anti-corruption institutions, such as the The Commission for Conflict of interest and the Office of the Ombudswoman, and ensuring their full independence; (iii) ensuring adequate, stable and independent funding for key actors, such as civil society organizations fighting corruption and (for example) investigative journalists.