Croatia is a country located in the region of Southern Europe. The road to the EU was long, but in 2013 Croatia finally became a member of the Union. By that time, EU enthusiasm had largely subsided. The right-wing nationalist party HDZ, which has dominated for 30 years, has been in power since the beginning of 2016.
It took ten years from formal application until Croatia became an EU member, and when that happened, it was as if the honeymoon was already over. After only a couple of months, Croatia ended up in direct conflict with Brussels. The EU threatened with sanctions when it adopted a law that violated an EU rule on extradition. Croatia was forced to back down (see Calendar) but the conflict showed some dissonance in its relationship with the EU. Widespread skepticism towards Brussels exists even after the change of government when the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) regained power (see below).
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Croatia, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
When the first round of the presidential election was held in December 2019, it looked as if the right winners were holding on. HDZ’s candidate, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, and a challenger from the right together received 51 percent of the vote. But in the decisive election round, Social Democratic former Prime Minister Zoran Milanović prevailed over Grabar Kitarović (see Calendar). Milanović took office in February 2020.
The situation was reminiscent of the previous presidential election five years earlier: Grabar Kitarović then won a button victory in the second round of incumbent President Ivo Josipović, who belonged to the then ruling Social Democratic SPD, led by Zoran Milanović (see Calendar). Josipović was not re-elected despite long leading the polls – just as Grabar Kitarović did before the 2019-2020 elections. The voters were both approved to show their dissatisfaction with the incumbent government. The presidential post is mainly ceremonial (see Political system).
In the fall of 2015, Croatia ended up in the midst of the acute refugee crisis in Europe. The location along the so-called Balkan route meant that the country had to deal with up to 10,000 people a day who came across the border, on their way to countries in Northern and Western Europe. Prime Minister Zoran Milanović advocated humane treatment of the refugees, which contributed to growing voter support for the government. However, the opposition accused him of weak and ineffective management of the crisis. By the end of the year, over half a million people had crossed Croatia.
The November 2015 parliamentary elections were very even. The Valalliance formed by HDZ received only three mandates more than one Left Alliance led by the SPD. Dissatisfaction with the traditional parties also led voters to look for new alternatives: the newly formed central party Most got almost 14 percent of the votes and thus a wave master role. The party’s young leader Božo Petrov became the country’s most popular politician according to the new person-election system introduced.
After several unsuccessful rounds of negotiations between the political parties, a compromise was reached in January 2016 where HDZ formed a government with Most but with a party politically independent head of government, Tihomir Oresković. By his side, he got both Mosts Petrov and HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko as deputy prime ministers. Many assumed that Oresković would be given a relatively restrained role, as he was politically inexperienced and spoke poor Croatian after living most of his life in Canada.
The government got off to a stormy start. A minister was forced to resign almost immediately because of accusations of tax fraud. Protests erupted in what was seen as an attempt by HDZ to manage the education sector and the media in detail. Soon the cooperation in the government coalition began to crack. Tomislav Karamarko found it difficult to agree with both Božo Petrov, who felt that promised reforms were going too slowly, and with Tihomir Oresković who became increasingly popular and turned out to want to drive his own politics.
The political crisis escalated since it was found that Karamako’s wife received over EUR 60,000 for consultancy work for the Hungarian oil company MOL, which Croatia was involved in a dispute with. The disclosure led the Social Democrats to submit a statement of confidence against Karamako in Parliament, and Petrov said Most would support the opposition on the issue.
The political squabble prompted lenders to raise interest rates on loans to Croatia from three to five percent, after which Prime Minister Oresković demanded both Karamakos and Petrov’s resignation.
This in turn led to HDZ making a statement of no confidence in Oresković and in mid-June, the government fell, just five months after taking office. Karamarko left the party leadership post in HDZ and was succeeded in July by former diplomat Andrej Plenković.
When the new elections were held in September 2016, the center-right alliance was led by HDZ, with a slightly larger margin than in the election the year before. Most lost almost a third of its seats but remained the third largest party in Parliament. Despite the previous contradictions, HDZ and Most formed a new government after a month, supported by eight members representing ethnic minorities and with Plenković as prime minister.
But the new government also burst after six months. This time, the collaboration is due to disagreement over the responsibility for a deep debt crisis in the grocery group Agrokor, which accounts for 15 percent of Croatia’s GDP. When most members stood on the opposition’s side facing a declaration of confidence in Finance Minister Zdravko Marić, who previously worked for Agrokor, the party resigned from the government. Marić passed the margin of no confidence in the confidence vote. HDZ then, in June 2017, unexpectedly succeeded in forming a new government with the liberal party HNS, which until then belonged to the Social Democratic-led opposition.
Under the HDZ government, Croatia’s relations with neighboring countries have in many cases significantly deteriorated (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
When the corona pandemic swept across the world in March 2020, Croatia, like most neighboring countries, imposed a wide range of restrictions, and most of the business and educational system shut down. The country managed without more extensive spread of infection and after just over two months had reported only about 100 dead. During May, restrictions began to be lifted. The president announced parliamentary elections until July 5, a few months earlier than otherwise expected.
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FACTS – POLITICS
Republika Hrvatska / Republic of Croatia
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Zoran Milanović (2020–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (2016–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
HDZ-led alliance 61, SDP-led alliance 54, Most 13, Živi zid-led alliance 8, other 15 (2016)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
HDZ-led alliance 59, SDP-led alliance 56, Most 19, others 17 (2015)
52% in the 2016 parliamentary elections, 55% in the 2020 presidential election
parliamentary elections 2020, presidential elections 2024