12 Jun 2023, 13:18
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Croatia

Q&A – Climate may get only sporadic attention as economy to dominate Croatia’s “super election year”

The 2024 European Parliamentary elections will kick off what has been coined a “super election year” for Croatia, together with parliamentary and presidential votes later in the year. Political analysts expect heated debate as politicians will focus on issues such as how to deal with rising costs of living also due to recently high energy prices. Climate change is less likely to be a stand-alone topic in the election campaigns. It garners only sporadic attention in both the media and politics, usually when the country is faced with extreme weather events.

This Q&A is part of a series from several countries highlighting the role and relevance of the European elections in 2024 into shaping climate and energy policy in the 27-member bloc. More will be published in the coming days. Find the Q&A on France here.

1. Which European climate and energy policy debates are important in Croatia’s national conversation?

With the prices of energy soaring over the last year, the question of how to keep energy costs down through policy continues to hold much political weight in Croatian politics, especially given that gas is already heavily subsidised.

In the wake of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the energy crisis, energy security was a key area of debate in Croatia, just as it had been across the EU. Accordingly, the government drafted plans to expand the capacity of Krk Island’s LNG terminal. Despite the government’s focus on expanding gas, environmental NGOs and energy experts collaborated to demonstrate how Croatia could get away from gas by fast-tracking growth in renewable capacity after a slow roll-out due to administrative and bureaucratic hurdles.

Climate change has begun to hit home in Croatia following intense rain and floods in May this year. The prime minister Andrej Plenković opened the meeting of the Government on 19 May with a talk on the necessity of climate adaptation and impacts that are being felt. He added that the money coming from European funds, especially the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, should be used to improve flood management and overall climate change adaptation in Croatia.

2. What role will climate and energy policy play in election campaigns?

According to the latest poll from Ipsos Plus agency, Croatian citizens are concerned about their economic outlook, and are particularly concerned about the decline in living standards and a possibility of a global recession. These fears are in line with global trends, as citizens across the world are worried about inflation, which has overtaken concerns about climate change and replaced the coronavirus as a leading concern.

The research showed that 70 percent surveyed Croatians are concerned about rising costs of living, which is also an energy issue since it includes costs of heating, electricity and transportation.

During an event in the European Commission representation in Croatia – the only bigger debate held so far on the topic of European elections – Sunčana Glavak from HDZ party, a current member of the European Parliament, stated that “green and digital transition, mental health and socioeconomic issues are topics which election campaigns should focus on”.

As climate change in Croatia garners only sporadic attention in both the media and politics, usually when the country is faced with extreme weather events, it is possible that recent climatic events, like floods or drought, could underscore the importance of climate issues this election cycle. Otherwise, judging from the polls, the economic issues will once again steal the limelight in both European Parliament and Croatian national elections.

3. What role did climate and energy policy play in how Croatia voted in the 2019 European elections?

Climate and energy issues did not feature highly in the 2019 election campaigns, nor in the priorities of voters.

The European Parliament’s post-election Eurobarometer – a comprehensive survey conducted across the EU directly after the elections – showed that economy and growth were the most important issues bringing voters to the polls, with Croatia being one of the six countries where more than half of the interviewed citizens, 67 percent, said it was their main motivation for voting. At the same time, 30 percent of citizens said that combatting climate change and protecting the environment were issues that brought them to the polls, below the European average at 37 percent.

Climate and energy issues scarcely figured in the campaign trails of the bigger parties. Parties campaigned instead on security issues like Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Area and on economic and social policies, also pertaining to how EU funding is spent. An EU Barometer survey three months before the elections showed that a majority of Croatians thought the most important election issues for debate should be youth unemployment, economy and growth, consumer protection and food safety and the social safety net. Climate change and environmental protection ranked far behind in 8th place.

4. How important are European parliamentary elections in Croatia?

Croatia only participated in European Parliament elections three times since joining the EU. The first time was upon entering EU in 2013, a year on in 2014, and most recently in 2019. Croatian voter turnout in the EU parliament elections has so far been below both the EU average, and the average for Croatian national elections.

2024 has been coined "the super-election year" for Croatia. Elections for the European Parliament in May will start off the first of the three important elections in the same year, preceding national parliament elections in July or September, and presidential elections in December or January 2025.

Up until now, national elections have attracted much more interest in Croatia than European elections, which have been perceived as a kind of second-class national elections, according to Hrvoje Butković, an expert from the Institute for Development and International Relations.

In 2024, the European Parliamentary election will provide a taster for what is to come in national elections. Political analysts expect the year to bring intense political debate, and Butković suggests that that campaigns for the European elections could be centred around trans-European over national issues.

5. Who gets to vote and how does the system work?

Croatia votes 12 members into the European Parliament. All registered political parties or coalitions have the right to propose party lists. Every list proposal must be supported with at least 5000 voter signatures to be valid in the election.

Members of the European Parliament are elected by proportional representation and preferential voting. The territory of the whole country, including polling stations outside the borders of Croatia, is one constituency. A list must receive at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the elections to achieve the right to choose a member to the Parliament.

Unlike in some other EU states, voting is not compulsory in Croatia. All citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote, if they are registered in the voters' list. Croatians living outside the country can also vote in elections, which is organized through Croatian embassies. Citizens of other EU Member States who have registered residence or temporary residence in Croatia can also vote in the elections of members of the European Parliament from Croatia, if they register in advance.

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

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