Croatia: Caught In European Parliament Elections Storm

Flags of the member states of the European Union

It’s been said many a time that the 23-26 May 2019 European Parliament (EUP) elections stand as the most important ones for the EU so far.

Today, Europe is in flux; in continued movement and upheaval be it from Brexit process that’s disquieting corridors of power in the UK, in the EU, and wider, be it from populism, atomising political fragmentation, and the largely confusing setting upside-down of traditional political paradigms in many countries.

It springs to mind as significant in this mass of political upheaval across Europe to remember that the last EUP elections held in May 2014 were held during the stormy months when the borders of an EU country (Ukraine) were being changed by force. Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and since then, has poured military capabilities into the annexed territory. So far about 13,000 lives (3,000 civilians) have been lost.

Furthermore, since last EUP elections China has continued its emergence as a formidable diplomatic, economic, military, and political power. European capitals are seemingly only beginning to formulate responses to Chinese strategic investments in Europe, as well as to the risks involved with Chinese companies providing important technological systems in the countries of EU. Croatia is one of them. Judging from public responses to recently announced China’s wishlist of investments in Croatia, a significant public outrage (and further political instability) will only follow should such investments come with or inject a boost of revival into the already troubling nostalgia for the former communist regime that still exists in some quarters, against which – for democracy and freedom – Croatian people paid more than what humanity can sustain or endure without permanent scarring.

But, perhaps the most impactful change since 2014 EUP elections has been the effects the migrant crisis (arising from North Africa and Middle East crises) that have shaped and visibly shape politics in European countries. Politics and election platforms are increasingly reflecting the need to defend Europe and the question of a deeper connection and interlocking with transatlantic community. Events and policies emerging particularly in countries at EU or Schengen borders that have seen fences (walls) being erected, presence of border police increased, the shutting-off of harbours and ports – banning boats carrying illegal migrant from docking, the enormous cash payments to Turkey to contain migrants bound for Europe in Turkey’s refugee camps … all spell out defence strategies employed, which have also become platforms for elections into EUP across Europe. Since the unprecedented wave of migration roiled Europe, a widespread sense arises, which tells us that Europeans can no longer take their union for granted. Politicians asserting national identity and national rights are talking to each other more and consolidating their mutual belonging to the politics of clear national interests for their own countries (EU members) much more than ever before. Their efforts have emerged into the mainstream of European political life; their opposition to the current drivers of EU politics is heard far and wide and this, surely, will result in a greater turnout at EUP elections across Europe than ever before. Previously the turnout had reached barely a 43% overall turnout, signaling pessimism and lack of interest in the EU as the power that delivers governance.

The roiling of the EU caused by the unprecedented migration influx seems to be at the centre of decreasing talks about leaving the EU (such as Brexit represents) and increasing efforts to move absolute governance away from Brussels through animating into practice the plan for an EU made up of a fabric of federation of (equal) states.

This time voters will have an opportunity to express their views on the future of Europe, the relation of European nation states, and the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. Currently, two main blocs control 54% majority seats in EUP. One bloc is the centre-right European People’s Party and the other is the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Current polling (e.g. Politico) suggests both the European People’s Party and Socialists and Democrats blocs are set to lose a significant number of seats. Parties expected to gain seats include euroskeptic parties, including those in the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists group. Support is also expected to grow for populist parties, including France’s National Rally (formerly Front National) and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland.

So far there are 33 different lists of 2019 EUP election candidates registered in Croatia! At 2014 EUP elections about one quarter (about 600,000) turned to vote, reflecting dismal interest in EU affairs within the voting population. And yet, judging by the media contents Croatians seem preoccupied with politics and the political developments; politics appear to consume much of daily living in Croatia! Should 2014 voter turnout be replicated in 2019 then, given the large number of candidates going for election, the results will not be different this time around and pursuing issues of what Croatia as EU member state needs will continue to appear as mere “shooting the breeze” in media, social media, cafés, streets. Obviously, many more Croatian voters need to vote in order to make an impact for Croatian national interests within EUP.

If you are like me, supporting and working on supporting democracy in Croatia (or anywhere else for that matter) chances are that your peers have told you over and over again: “The political landscape in Croatia has gone crazy, out of control. Voters can’t possibly make a proper choice as there are simply too many parties, too many candidates for election, and it’s almost impossible to distinguish many from others…”

One must not permit frustrations to overwhelm him/her because of this, and then boycott elections. We need to always keep in mind that founding a political party (association) is a fundamental right in a democracy and from that perspective one can never have enough political parties; one can never have enough of good ideas and good initiatives, innovative approaches to addressing real problems a nation faces – hence, the need to permit the expression of many ideas through political platforms. In the conundrum of too many candidates and parties going for EUP elections from Croatia a “strong” party (list) will be a party that presents voters with a coherent policy agenda. That is the factor that influences a voter to stop and think, before voting; or at least that is how it should be. Then, the choice that draws ones vote becomes easier. Reported electoral fraud has undoubtedly put many Croatian voters off in the past; a feeling that there is no use of voting when the results are likely to be rigged has devastated the possible voter turnout on many an occasion in Croatia. Such attitudes only benefit those who engage or may engage in electoral fraud and that is why voting is important; the greater the voter turnout the better are the chances of election results actually reflecting the mood and the desires of the electorate.

I truly trust that Croatia will see a much larger voter turnout at these coming elections than before.

This is essential for many reasons but the one that seems most relevant is to assert Croatia’s identity and national aspirations with the EU “den” Croatia is a part of. This “den” is actually one of the world’s most extraordinary experiments in governance. It’s a union of 28 countries with wildly different cultures brought together to fight around a negotiating table rather than on the battlefield. Currently this Union is under siege from within, from Brussels. Decision-making studies show that most people find it difficult to make rational choices. Needless to say, having to establish preference/s among 33 + electoral lists for EUP options is not simple at all. But it must be done. Individuals must choose one (list) among several they may feel close to and the ones that make that personal step by voting, shall grow as rational citizens of democracy in Croatia. Ina Vukic

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