Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Croatia, Potentially EU’s Latest Political Crisis

Nicholas Zalewski
Croatian President Zoran Milanović at his inauguration. Source: Atlantic Council

After emerging as a stable EU member following the turmoil of the Yugoslav war, Croatia faces the looming threat of another potential political crisis.President Zoran Milanović of Croatia’s SDP (Social Democratic Party) announced that he will run to become Croatia’s next Prime Minister. He also stated that he would only step down from his position as president if he wins the polls. This now makes 2024 a super-election year due to a new parliamentary election, the EU elections, and the presidential elections.

The Croatian Constitutional Court ruled that President Zoran Milanović cannot run for prime minister without stepping down as the nation’s president. If not, Milanović is violating the national constitution. Article 96 of the constitution forbids anyone occupying the office of president from partisan activities. This is because the office of the president is nonpartisan. Even though candidates for president run within political parties, the candidate who wins the election must immediately forfeit their party membership.

His hesitancy to resign from his office likely has to do with the recent polls. Currently, the right-wing HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) is leading with 32 percent of voter support meanwhile the left-wing SDP comes in second place with 23 percent. With less than a month to go for the election, there would have to be a 9-point shift in support between the parties for the SDP to win. This is unlikely to happen without a significant political scandal. His own decision to try to defy the Constitutional Court may also harm Milanović’s chance of gaining support.

Alleged Corruption Of HDZ

Prime Minister Plenković (left) appointed Ivan Turudić as attorney general. Source: AFP, Cropix/Bruno Konjevic

Milanović claims that his decision to run for prime minister is motivated by corruption from the ruling party, HDZ, a center-right party. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has faced numerous protests by political opposition accusing him of attempting to hide corruption. Milanović alleges that Plenković appointed Ivan Turudić as attorney general because he would sweep incriminating evidence under the carpet rather than do his job. This is possible, considering that Ivan Turudić is connected to multiple people accused of corruption.

In an attempt to appease the political opposition, the ruling HDZ agreed to dissolve Parliament and to allow for early elections. As the party still leads in polls, this move is not surprising as HDZ is expected to win a fourth consecutive term. Under the HDZ, Croatia entered the schengen area and eurozone, which is expected to help the party in the election. HDZ originally voted against dissolving parliament, yet potentially changed its mind after the political opposition vowed to hold major protests. The political opposition voiced concerns that HDZ would attempt to hold elections during the summer when many Croatians go on vacation and would not be home to vote, or in September because the ruling party could boast about how well the economy did during the latest tourist season.

Echoes Of Other European Authoritarian leaders

What is concerning about Milanović’s announcement is this would not be the first time a politician in Europe has taken an opportunity to seize more power. While the reverse of Milanović, Turkish President Erdogan was first Turkey’s Prime Minister before assuming his current position. Through constitutional reforms, Erdogan gained more power yet wants to write a brand-new constitution to settle a judicial dispute. What makes Milanović appear to thirst for power is the fact that rather than step down as president in order to run for prime minister, he refuses to give up his position unless he wins. In addition, it is concerning that President Milanović also stated that the opinion of the Croatian Constitutional Court is irrelevant. This statement directly undermines the Croatian Constitutional Court’s authority and casts doubt whether Milanović respects democracy. Milanović claims to be concerned abut the nation and views the next election as a way to save the nation, yet he himself refuses to respect the Croatian Constitutional Court.

Façade of Croatia’s Constitutional Court. Source: Croatia.eu

Milanović attempts to frame his unwillingness to give up his position as president as blocking the HDZ from seizing power of every governmental institution, yet it is important what voters think of the situation as well. Since 2016 when Milanović lost the election and was ousted as Prime Minister, HDZ has polled the highest with Croatian voters. While Milanović may not be happy with his place in the nation’s political opposition, a large share of voters appears satisfied with the performance of HDZ. He presents his attempted power grab as ‘national salvation’ to make it seem selfless and for the benefit of Croatians. It will be interesting to see if voters believe it, or view his campaign for what it is, Milanović attempting to maintain a political career at the national level.


It is possible that Milanović is correct and that the HDZ is culpable of corruption, yet simultaneously he weakens his case by appearing to be power hungry. He could simply step down as President of Croatia in order to run in the next parliamentary election in order to become prime minister, yet because it is not guaranteed he will win, he does not want to risk not having a position of power at the national level. The polls are currently not in his favor If he refuses to do so, Milanović will violate the national constitution and threaten the nation’s democracy. While HDZ is currently leading the polls and Milanović may lose, it is still dangerous that he is attempting to violate the constitution. A national politician should not be calling a ruling of the Constitutional Court irrelevant, as this undermines the legitimacy of the institution.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

“Croatian president calls for ‘national salvation government’ after polls”. Reuters. 16 March 2024.

Ferenčić, Domagoj. “Milanović says the Constitutional Court’s opinion is irrelevant”. Hrvatska radiotelevizija. 17 March 2024. 

“Croatia’s top court rules that the president can’t run in the parliamentary election unless he quits”. AP News. 18 March 2024.

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by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min