The rise of euroscepticism in Croatia

Despite the current challenging economic times and the alleged enlargement fatigue, on Monday, July 1st 2013 Croatia became the 28th EU member state. Further Western Balkans countries, such as Montenegro, the Former Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, are waiting to join, while Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo hope to gain official status as candidate countries soon.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. In June 2004 it was granted official EU candidate status, and in October 2005 the negotiation process started. Between 2004 and 2005 the high levels of public enthusiasm in Croatia towards EU integration decreased and opposition to it increased markedly, while the EU itself experienced a slowdown with the double rejection of the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands.

Figure 1. Public support for EU integration in Croatia (2000-2011)

Figure 1

Source: Ministry of Foreign and European Integration (Ministarstvo Vanjskih i Europskih Poslova: MVPEI) For comparative public opinion data, see Eurobarometer surveys.

Lower levels of public support are to be expected after the opening of the negotiation process. The post-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 showed similar patterns of attitudes towards the EU. As Figures 2 and 3 illustrate, levels of opposition towards EU integration increased after 1998 in the Czech Republic, where public support has never been high. The same happened in Poland where positive attitudes towards EU integration were high until 1997, when the EU opened the integration process.

Figure 2. Image of the EU in the Czech Republic (1993-2003)

Figure 2

Source: Central and Eastern Eurobarometer (1991-1998) and Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (2001-2003)

Figure 3. Image of the EU in Poland (1992-2003)

Figure 3

Source: Central and Eastern Eurobarometer (1991-1998) and Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (2001-2003)

In Croatia, the costs of the integration process and the demands of political conditionality – in particular facing the past, war crimes, and passing through the removal of immunity for its former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, who opened Croatia to the EU integration process – have affected Croatian attitudes towards the EU. If public opinion is now a measure of the process of European integration and citizens can express their protest and opposition through referenda and European Parliament (EP) elections, Croatia joined the EU when opposition was at its highest since 2000 (see Figure 1).

Although, in 2006, there were growing fears about the implications of EU integration, Croatian political elites were optimistic. The vast majority of Croatian citizens referred to the advantage of open borders (80%), economic development (79%), and general significant progresses (80%). The partial loss of independence was not that relevant at the time (36%), but the necessity for regional cooperation (55%) and negative consequences for the national economy (53%) already concerned more than half of Croatian citizens. The 2004 enlargement of the European Union had shown that the waiting time for EU membership and the perceived lack of relevant information could negatively impact on levels of public support.

In order to avoid rising levels of public Euroscepticism, the Croatian government adopted two communication strategies, in 2001 and 2006. The main aim of these strategies was to inform citizens on the progress toward European integration and enhance the quality of the debates on EU integration, but the two communication strategies and the information campaign did not garner much interest. In 2006, the Croatian public were growing increasingly concerned about the impact of EU membership on the economy (87%), everyday life (84%), and the impact of membership on sovereignty (84%). Unsurprisingly, surveys showed that more and more Croats were willing to vote against EU membership (14% in 2003, 39% in June 2004, and 45% in 2006).

It is also fundamental to note that the case of Croatia can be seen as both typical and different compared to the wider post-communist region. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has had a dominant position in the democratization process, and its role is viewed as a negative factor in the transition. Its focus has been on independence and statehood, less on democratization; with its leader, Franjo Tudjman, representing the Croats more than Croatia.

In comparison with the countries of the post-communist region, Croats assume distinct positions, with a very dissatisfied attitude towards how democracy is developing in the country, but a very high (the highest in the region) positive value on democracy in principle. This resulted in critical attitudes towards the way democracy was developing in Croatia; while the conditions for EU membership were challenging public opinion and were perceived as insulting Croatian national pride.

Further perspective challenges arise from the possible impact of membership on the policy-making process, being a small member state. If, in the 1990s, EU integration could be viewed as a civilizational choice (leaving behind the past and the war), the awareness that Croatia was not just a victim of war crimes and the slowing down of the negotiation process, in particular on the border dispute with Slovenia between 2008 and 2009, affected the early Euroenthusiasm. In January 2012 only one out of three Croats voted ‘Yes’ at the accession referendum on a 43.51% turnout, still valid after a Constitution amendment in 2010, but resulting in a meagre one third of Croats overall supporting EU integration on the EU referendum day.

The Croatian case is also distinctive in the region, as a very low percentage of young voters were mobilized by the referendum. While generally young Europeans were the most in favour of EU integration in the post-communist region ten years before, the benefit of travelling and studying abroad did not make any difference in Croatia. Levels of participation in the country remained at a record low (20.84%) at the first European Parliament elections, held on 14 April 2013. At the domestic level, that was the lowest turnout since Croatia’s independence. Low levels of turnout are common across the post-communist countries and the ‘second-order’ dimension of the European elections can be detected.

The literature distinguishes between ‘first-order’ elections, such as general elections at the national level, where citizens vote on who should govern the country, and ‘second-order’ elections, such as regional or local elections, and European Parliament elections, where citizens do not vote on the executive, but national party politics still affect the outcome. Compared to national elections and depending on the electoral cycle, ‘second-order’ elections are characterized by loss for governing parties, while opposition and protest parties can gain from the lower turnout. Although the model fully applies to western member states, voting can also show a second-order dimension in the new member states. In Croatia, the HDZ and the Social Democratic Party, representing the opposition and ruling coalitions in the country, gained respectively 6 and 5 seats.

The global financial crisis and high levels of unemployment rates (about 22% in Croatia in 2013) have affected the results and turnout at the EU accession referendum and EP elections, and help explain the persisting low levels of enthusiasm. Croatia joins the EU after the entering into force of the European Fiscal Compact, in a difficult domestic economic situation, and while corruption is still rampant. It should benefit from EU accession and the internal market, and it is important for the EU to have a foot in the Western Balkans and more voice to preserve democracy and securitize the region. The enlargement of the EU to Croatia definitely represents a ‘win-win’ situation for the newest member state and the EU itself.

Simona Guerra

Happy Easter and a look at the year so far

Image by Jan Kameníček

Image by Jan Kameníček

The blog will be taking a short break over Easter, so to keep you going here’s 5 popular blog posts from the year so far.

1. The invasion of Iraq did many things, putting young people off politics wasn’t one of them.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War and there has been a lot of talk in the media about the impact that the war has had on people’s faith in politics and in particular on the young people who marched against the war back in 2003. However, this post by Stuart Fox looks at the data on the political attitudes of young people and concludes that the Iraq War did not in fact have a significant impact on their faith in politics.

2. Making an impact: Why political scientists should engage with the media and how to deal with the media.

We started a series of posts on academic impact this year and as part of that series Philip Cowley wrote this useful two-part guide on why and how to engage with the media. It’s packed with useful tips and well worth a read.

3. What will become of the May 2015 UK Parliament if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on independence.

The vote on Scottish independence is schedules for 2014 and if the ‘Yes’ vote wins implementation will begin in 2016, so what happens to the 57 Scottish MPs elected in the May 2015 election? In this post geopolitics experts Ron Johnson, Chris Pattie and David Rossiter examine the possible consequences and outcomes.

4. The power of Euromyths shows substantial effort is needed to change the debate on the EU.

In February we launched a collaborative series of posts on euroscepticism with the LSE’s British Politics and Policy and EUROPP blogs. This post from the series looks at the familiar euromyths, such as bendy bananas, and their corrosive effect on the possiblity of mature debate about the EU. You can also take a look at some of the other posts in the series here: Euroscepticism.

5. How and why is North Africa depicted by the US and EU as the ‘next Afghanistan’?

We had a number of posts looking at the situation in Mali and North Africa. This post from Nottingham graduate Rhiannon Bannister looks at why North Africa is increasingly being referred to as the ‘next Afghanistan’ and argues that this label serves the US and EU’s security agendas.

We’ll be back on 8th April so see you then!

In countries where citizens tend to distrust the state euroscepticism is rooted in state-scepticism


It increasingly seems as if the prolonged economic crisis is slowly but surely generating an identity crisis in Europe. Unsurprisingly, increasing invocations of what is necessary are once again followed by a decrease in solidarity, a tendency which is even stronger in a transnational context, such as Europe. Of course, crises do not only have negative consequences. As they are also the beginning of any renewal, they hold the potential of emancipatory change. Therefore the question at present is whether this European identity crisis will result in the weakening of the union, or in the finding of a new, more inclusive collective identity.

The most important areas, where the outcome of this dilemma will be decided, are those national discourses, where the reason for the existence of the EU is questioned. As the fate of the EU fundamentally depends on the willingness of member states to give up a part of their sovereignty in exchange for economic, political, security and moral benefits, those processes where this willingness is renewed or changed are crucial. These processes are fundamentally embedded into local citizen-state relations, which ground the willingness to trust in any kind of authority.

That is the point where collective memory comes into the picture. In those countries, where historical experiences have ensured a trusting relationship between citizen and state, trusting the EU is framed in a completely different manner than in those countries  where the citizens tend to be distrustful of their own state. In the former cases the willingness to partially give up state sovereignty to the EU depends on the estimated effectiveness and trustworthiness of the EU-bureaucracy in comparison to the national state. However in the latter case, no such comparison is applied. Actually in that case those basic experiences of a trustworthy state are missing, which could ground a trust in an even more complex and distant meta-state such as the EU. In this sense the real problem in these countries is not euroscepticism, but state-scepticism.

Post-socialist Hungary certainly belongs to this latter group. During the 50 years of state socialism an alienated and paternalistic political culture emerged, which resulted in a mutually hostile and suspicious relation between citizens and state. Of course the transition provided an exceptional chance to overcome these destructive and unconscious habits. However as research shows, even in the case of the youngest of those who are deemed to be adults politically, no such overcoming has yet occurred.

According to a representative survey finished in 2011, almost 50% of the high school students answered “1” and 30% answered “2” to the question, “Personally how much do you trust politicians on a scale, where 1 means not at all and 5 means absolutely?” This means that approximately 80% of the younger generation, which has been socialized solely in the post-transition period are still highly suspicious towards politicians.

Questions concerning the EU are embedded within this context. While the general attitude towards the EU is ignorance (70% of the high school students answered that joining the EU did not affect their life at all), this could easily transform into suspicion. Although analysis of the data is ongoing, from our experience of fieldwork from the MYPLACE project it seems that young people do not have any personal experiences of the EU as such. Thus their concepts are derived from their impressions of the local political field.

This means that until relations between citizen and state improve on a local level, attitudes towards the EU will also tend towards negativity. It is important to note that this constellation is burdened with a special difficulty. As euroscepticism is rooted in state-scepticism, fighting the former requires the strengthening of the latter. However this results in a paradox, as the strengthening of the nation state implies the distancing from other state-like entities such as the EU.

In the present situation, when the future identity of the EU is at stake such a trap is particularly dangerous, as it could easily lead to the strengthening of populist voices, providing oversimplified solutions, which, above and beyond the problem of euroscepticism, constitutes a worrying tendency.

Domonkos Sik

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.




In political fiction the EU is either non-existent or portrayed as corrupt and dystopian


How we imagine politics is sometimes as important as how it really is – if the latter can ever be determined, that is. Indeed according to Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities, one of the most basic political concepts, the nation state, had to be first imagined before it could exist in reality. It is also generally accepted that while fiction can rarely over-turn strongly held points of view, it can reinforce existing opinions and subtly reframe how people think about a subject. At the very least fictions give us an insight into how people feel about political issues.

We now live in an era in which many talk of the death of the nation state and its supersession by globalisation and supranational bodies, probably the most important of which is the European Union. Indeed, the power of the EU within British politics, and the threat it poses to British sovereignty, is an abiding theme of those who seek to radically transform Westminster’s relationship with Brussels, or engineer an exit.

In researching my forthcoming study of how British politics has been imagined in fiction and drama since the days of Anthony Trollope, I have however come across remarkably few references to the role of the EU and its precursors. That tells a story in itself – and reflects the findings of countless opinion polls taken over the years, which suggest that most Britons do not think Europe is important to them. Clearly most authors consider that, as a consequence, it is not an especially interesting one.

Certainly, the popular 1980s sitcom Yes Minister rarely mentioned Brussels and when it did, it was associated with unnecessary regulation and huge perks for its officials. Those who wrote Margaret Thatcher’s favourite comedy series also considered that within the EEC national interests trumped all other considerations and those who believed otherwise – like Jim Hacker – were naive fools. In the fourth and final season of the New Statesman (1987-92), having lost his Commons seat the Eurosceptic and far-right Conservative Alan B’Stard is forced to become an MEP. He manages to install an acolyte as a European Commissioner who he has issue edicts that suit his financial interest. For B’Stard Europe is just like Westminster, his personal cash-cow, only in Brussels the rewards are even greater. Both series then presented Europe as a place of excessive bureaucracy and corruption, themes developed in Channel Four’s allegedly comic 1990 mini-series The Gravy Train, the title of which says it all.

The Gravy Train was unusual in being set in Brussels. Stanley Johnson’s 1987 novel The Commissioner was another such rarity. Johnson was a former Conservative MEP who had previously worked for the European Commission: he was also father of the future Mayor of London. His novel has a sacked Conservative minister shunted off to Brussels where he exposes corruption at the highest levels.

Johnson was just one of a number of Conservative figures who wrote  political novels during this period but he was the only one to have Europe as the main subject. However, Tim Renton in Hostage to Fortune (1997) did make an arch intervention in his party’s violent divisions over the power of Brussels. Renton was by then on the backbenches having stepped down from John Major’s Cabinet in 1992. His thriller has a Conservative Prime Minister and Labour Leader of the Opposition join in support for Britain’s entry into the Euro. Both believe Britain will benefit from the move so they put partisan considerations aside in the national interest. The reader is left in no doubt as to Renton’s approval of their initiative.

For the most part fictions about contemporary British politics have subsequently avoided the European subject: for example, I cannot think of one occasion when it was mentioned in The Thick of It.

Europe has nonetheless been depicted in various works of science fiction and thrillers set in the distant future: these are universally dystopian visions of a European super-state gone bad for one or other reason. In his 2003 comic thriller Incompetence Rob Grant for example has a federated Europe make stupidity a protected right. In his 2002 Super-state Brian Aldiss has Europe come a cropper after undertaking an Iraq-style invasion. Adam Lebor’s The Budapest Protocol (2011) even has an EU about to directly elect its President as part of the forward march to a super-state exposed as a Nazi Fourth Reich.

Set in 2045 in a United States of Europe – inevitably characterised as corrupt and bureaucratic and in which British identity is all-but snuffed out – Andrew Roberts’ 1994 The Aachen Memorandum suggested that European federalism was based on a fraud of staggering dimensions. It reflected the fears of one of Margaret Thatcher’s bigger fans – and keen supporter of Michael Portillo’s ambitions to replace Major – that the people’s patriotic voice will simply be over-ridden on Brussels’ march towards super-state-dom.

The imagined EU that emerges from such fictions is bureaucratic, corrupt and/or tyrannical and does not suggest that many Britons are ready to embrace federalism any time soon. This will of course not be news to our political leaders but it does indicate the depth of mistrust the EU arouses, when Britons can be bothered to think about it.

Steven Fielding


EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

The Absentee, the Public Orator and the Pragmatist: the roles of Eurosceptic MEPs in the European Parliament

European Parliament, Credit: Giorgio Tomassetti (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Giorgio Tomassetti

Euroscepticism has become an integral part of the political landscape in Europe, both at the national and supranational levels. It has attracted significant attention as European elections have provided Eurosceptic parties with an opportunity to get parliamentary representation. But if there is a rich literature on the Eurosceptic stances of these parties, there remains relatively little research on these actors and their behaviours once inside the European Parliament (EP). This article aims therefore to understand the strategies developed by Eurosceptic actors at the supranational level. It focuses on members of the Eurosceptic group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (in the 7th legislature of the EP), of its predecessor, the Independence and Democracy group, as well as on Eurosceptic representatives from the radical right (6th and 7th legislatures). These actors are representatives of fringe right-wing parties, sharing an opposition to the EU and/or European integration primarily for political and cultural reasons. They are at the heart of an interesting paradox: their greatest electoral successes have occurred in elections to an institution they oppose and having taken their seats, they are obliged to operate within it, which can pose an existentialist dilemma for them.

Drawing on the motivational approach of role theory, the article demonstrates that facing similar institutional constraints, Eurosceptic MEPs can be categorised in 3 types of roles. More precisely, the qualitative analysis of the interviews with MEPs, of their parliamentary activities and of the observation of group meetings shows that these MEPs display a variety of strategies and perceptions of their European mandate that can be summarised in a typology of three roles: the Absentee, the Public Orator and the Pragmatist.

The first is the role of the Absentee. It is characterised by two main elements: comparatively limited involvement inside the parliament and emphasis on the national arena and the voters. Although minimal involvement is not restricted solely to Eurosceptics, a lack of involvement has a specific meaning in their case and can reflect another type of representation in the EP. It can be motivated either by a lack of interest in the mandate, or by an absolute refusal to get involved in the daily functioning of the institution. While Absentees may neglect the parliament, they are very active at home. They feel they are in a permanent campaign to influence public opinion at home against the EU. If they are motivated by such ideological considerations, opportunistic and utilitarian considerations also play an important role. Some Abstentees can indeed be strongly motivated by the benefits attached to the position of MEP (immunity, income, access to the media, social prestige) while others participate in EP elections for national political considerations: i.e. to take advantage of an electoral system that is more favourable to small, marginalised parties. The seat in the EP is then an opportunity to get noticed at the national level and gain some legitimacy while not being involved in the EP. This role tends to be chosen by Eurosceptics hostile to the EU and the integration process or by “intergovermentalist” MEPs.

The second role is the Public Orator. MEPs playing this role give priority to two aspects of the mandate: public speaking and the dissemination of negative information on the EU. Public Orators see themselves as being the only opposition speakers and their logic is to delegitimise the institution through public speeches. But Public Orators think that it is also their duty to inform the public of the decisions made by the EU and their negative consequences. They have strong relations with the media and are always available to answer questions from voters, journalists, and other actors. Their presence in the EP and its bodies is conditioned partly by the satisfaction of making plenary speeches, but also by the need to collect negative information on the EU and to know from the inside what is happening. This role tends to be chosen by either Eurosceptics hostile to the EU and the integration process, or intergovernementalists who see the EP as a useful forum of expression.

The last role is the Pragmatist. It is characterised by greater involvement in the daily work of the EP, a need to achieve results, and a tendency to respect the rules. Such Eurosceptics do not remain in sterile opposition, but develop a different strategy, aiming to strike a balance between the promotion of their views and the pursuit of concrete results. Therefore, they develop a dual conception of their mandate: as Eurosceptics they see themselves as part of the opposition to European integration, but as MEPs they want to make a difference. Two subgroups are distinguishable: the first one includes pragmatists who conceive and carry out their mandate in order to amend and control, in specific areas, the initiatives of their fellow MEPs and of the other EU institutions. The second subgroup of pragmatists is primarily driven by the motivation to defend the national/regional interest in the chamber and solve the problems in their country/region. They tend to adopt an instrumentalist approach as they use the assembly as a forum for the advocacy of national or specific interests that they cannot defend at the national level. The role of Pragmatist is primarily chosen by reformist Eurosceptics, who accept some limited and institutionalised cooperation at the European level and concentrate their criticism on the current state of the EU.

Euroscepticism, especially in its outright form, remains rather marginal and has not had a direct impact on policy outcomes. Euroscepticism would have to be much more widespread among elites to really have an immediate impact on the workings of the EU institutions. However this does not mean that the presence of Eurosceptics within the EP has no impact at all. Eurosceptics not only facilitate discussions about the limits of the current integration process, but also raise key questions about the role of the opposition in a political system like the EU, which relies on relatively depoliticised and consensual interactions. The presence of these dissenting voices could increase the representativeness of the EP, and contribute thereby to the legitimacy of the European polity.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Nathalie Brack is a research and teaching assistant at Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and member of the CEVIPOL. She holds a PhD in political science and her main research interests are Euroscepticism at the supranational level, political opposition, the European Parliament, legislative studies and parliamentary representation. She recently coedited a book on Euroscepticism within the EU institutionsFor a longer discussion of this topic see: Euroscepticism at the Supranational Level: The Case of the ‘Untidy Right’ in the European Parliament.