Europeanisation meets democracy from below: The Western Balkans on the search for new European and democratic Momentum (WB2EU)

Rule of Law and Justice in Croatia after the EU accession, Nikica Kolar, ÖGfE Policy Brief, 21’2021

Every accession into political alliance is a matter of political negotiations. During the accession process Croatia advanced but did not completely execute a judicial reform that met the European Union (EU) rule of law standards. After Croatia’s accession, the Croatian judiciary even regressed significantly towards the path of semi-liberal or illiberal democracies in the aspect of judiciary practice. In this Policy Brief recent and major court cases (the Mamić brothers, Horvatinčić, ex-Prime Minister Sanader, and war criminals Glavaš and Jelić) are presented, demonstrating that Croatia has structural and fundamental obstacles in implementing the rule of law and delivering fair, efficient and just final decisions for all its citizens equally. The rule of law assumes that every person before the law is equal. In major cases, which are presented in this paper, it is evident that some people are more equal than others.

Policy Recommendations

  1. An independent and professional judiciary stands as the cornerstone of strong democracies which are based on the rule of law. A reformed judiciary affects every segment of a society, and promoting judicial reform must remain at the heart of the EU accession process.
  2. Independent watchdog organisations as well as well-funded and professional prosecution bodies have positively contributed to the implementation of judicial reforms in Croatia. These efforts must be continued towards a reform of the court system and overall professionalisation and depolitisation of the judiciary.
  3. The EU enlargement process is not value-neutral and is not a one-way process. The EU focuses on the rule of law and order as to install strong, liberal democratic political systems in new member states, which, in return, strengthen the EU as a cohesive body. With this in mind, the EU’s efforts in sanctioning member states that deviate from liberal democratic standards should be fully endorsed and sanctions against EU member states that violate the EU’s rule of law standards should be applied.
The Policy Brief is published in the framework of the WB2EU project. The project aims at the establishment of a network of renowned think-tanks, do-tanks, universities, higher education institutes and policy centres from the Western Balkans, neighbouring countries and EU member states that will be most decisive for the enlargement process and Europeanisation of the region in the upcoming years. The WB2EU project is co-funded by the European Commission under its Erasmus+ Jean Monnet programme. The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Photo: The Berlaymont building with: „Welcome Croatia, 1.7.2013“ banner in NL, FR, EN, and HR / Photographer: Etienne Ansotte
© European Union, 2013
Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

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