Nearly a month on from its parliamentary elections, Croatia may finally be a step closer to having a government, with the third party option destined to decide the country’s future political landscape.
The 8 November elections were the country’s first since it joined the European Union in 2013. No party gained the 76 seats needed for a majority, and the result was a hung parliament.
Yesterday (14 December), the conservative HDZ party (Croatian Democratic Union) sent a formal reply to MOST, Croatia’s third party option, communicating its willingness to discuss the appointment of a non-partisan prime minister. MOST had previously made it clear that no deal would involve the appointment of either Tomislav Karamarko of the HDZ or Zoran Milanović of the SDP (Social Democratic Party of Croatia).
Earlier in the day, the two candidates had met with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović for talks about whether the two main parties would be willing to form a coalition, an option that is considered highly unlikely. Before the HDZ told MOST that it would be willing to discuss a non-partisan prime minister, both its leader, Karamarko, and his SDP-counterpart, Milanović, said that they would be the only legitimate options for the post.
In the worst crisis of relations between Serbia and Croatia since the Yugoslav Civil War, European Commission officials are trying to ease tensions between the two countries, following a massive influx of refugees into Croatia.
Whoever ultimately ends up leading the Mediterranean republic will have some large issues on their plate. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said that Croatia’s economy had not grown since 2008 and is only expected to expand by 0.9% this year, while unemployment sits at 16%.
In terms of the refugee crisis, Milanović’s handling of the matter mostly involved making sure that Croatia was nothing more than a pit-stop on the Western Balkans route. Parties mostly refrained from making it a central issue during the election campaigns, although it was flirted with on occasion. The Balkans’ still-recent experience of war and conflict refugees is perhaps still too raw a memory to be made into as divisive an issue as in other parts of Europe.
However, the refugee crisis is likely to complicate Croatia’s ambitions to be brought into the Schengen area, given the fear that the passport-free area might be in its death throes, as countries reintroduce border controls in an attempt to manage the influx of refugees, and as a result of the Paris attacks.