Croatia politics

By Erik Berglof and Peter Sanfey of the EBRD

Croatia’s accession to the European Union on Monday is a triumph – for the country and for the EU. For Zagreb, it is a triumph of perseverance – the completion of a process that began hesitantly in the 1990s and that faced many obstacles.

The European Commission, perhaps mindful of the accusation that some previous entrants were not fully prepared for membership, has subjected Croatia to greater scrutiny than any existing member. For the EU, the accession of Croatia is a demonstration of its “soft power” – its ability to persuade countries to implement difficult and unpopular reforms. 

Croatia’s efforts to attack corruption in advance of its imminent accession into the EU have claimed the scalp of former prime minister Ivo Sanader, who on Tuesday was found guilty of taking bribes and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The judgement could help Zagreb persuade Brussels that it is serious about cleaning up public life. But it could create difficulties with two EU members, Austria and Hungary, as the companies which allegedly bribed Sanader were the Austrian-controlled Bank Hypo-Alpe-Adria and the Hungarian oil giant MOL

Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister Radimir Cacic was sentenced in Hungary on Wednesday to 22 months in prison for causing a fatal crash in 2010.

Cacic, who is Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s closest ally, later called a press conference and announced his resignation from the government, saying he was ready to accept his responsibilities [updated]. Croatians who hope to join the European next summer, will be hoping that the case doesn’t turn into a diplomatic issue between Zagreb and Budapest.