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Croatia: First European elections on Sunday, amid pessimism

Croats will elect 12 lawmakers in Strasbourg

12 April, 16:27

    Croatia, EU sign treaty for 2013 accession [ARCHIVE MATERIAL 20111209 ] Croatia, EU sign treaty for 2013 accession [ARCHIVE MATERIAL 20111209 ]

    (by Franko Dota) (ANSAmed) - ZAGREB, APRIL 12 - Croatia is voting on Sunday in its first European elections ahead of the country's adhesion to the EU on July 1 amid concern over the financial crisis. The vote will take place in a very different mood from the climate experienced during previous adhesions. Croatia will have 12 European lawmakers who will be elected with a proportional representation system with a 5% threshold and, for the first time, a vote of preference.

    The electoral campaign has been almost invisible, without conventions or televised debates and has been limited to the presentation of candidates on the web and press.

    All political leaders have said the vote is 'historic', recalling how EU membership has been the most important national strategic objective since the proclamation of independence from Socialist Yugoslavia in 1991. Concrete efforts to join the EU started in 2000, after the electoral victory of pro-European and democratic forces and the end of the authoritarian regime of late president Franjo Tudjman. Negotiations started in 2005 and were based on stricter criteria than those followed with any other country, also due to the negative experience Brussels had in part with the adhesion of Romania and Bulgaria. In the past eight years Croatia has gone through some drastic reforms, implementing difficult changes in all sectors of society and of institutions, in particular in human rights, the judiciary and public administration. Today the country is in practice already part of the European economic system, with an open, regulated and functioning market, and the national currency, the kuna, solidly connected to the euro.

    The country will however be one of the poorest in the Union, with a GDP pro capita worth 60% of the EU average.

    Throughout this time, Croatians have never lost their will to become part of Europe, with an approval rate in surveys which always topped 50% and sometimes peaked to 80%.

    A referendum on adhesion held in January 2012 saw 66,3% back EU membership though turnout was a disappointing 43,5%.

    According to pre-vote polls, the European elections will also take place amid apathy and indifference with an even lower turnout. And indifference is not due to the fact that Croatian European MPs will only have a one-year mandate as in 2014 member countries will vote to renew the European parliament. The indifference is mainly due to the grave state of the economy which is in recession for the fifth consecutive year. The announcement that 600 million euros in aid for Croatia area ready in Brussels in the first six months of adhesion and another 13 billion until 2020 does not appear to counterbalance the negative outlook on the eurozone's economy, coinciding with Zagreb's adhesion. In fact along with the efforts by the Croatian government which has implemented austerity policies in the past two years, only the economic recovery of Europe, and first of all of neighbouring countries including Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, will be able to revive the Croatian economy which is currently surviving on the good performance of the tourism sector which represents almost a fifth of the country's GDP. The last few years have seen hundreds of companies in the industrial sector fold and unemployment has peaked to 22% - 43% among youths - against the 13% registered in 2007 before the crisis.


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