United Kingdom Member of the European Parliament Roger Helmer's Open Letter to
Croatia's Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor
ROGER HELMER MEP
WIB 05M81, Rue Wiertz 60, B - 1047,
March 29, 2011
Ms. Jadranka Kosor
Prime Minister of Croatia
Vlada Republike Flrvatske
Trg Svetog Marka 2
Dear Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor,
Throughout my years as a member of the European Parliament I have closely monitored the events taking place in Croatia. Given the current state of Croatia's EU accession agreement I must state that Croatia has failed to meet the criteria and requirements of Chapter 23 - Justice and Fundamental Rights. Regrettably, Croatia’s political leadership has mocked the rule of law and undermined provisions of this chapter. Under these circumstances, EU member state taxpayers and Croatia’s stakeholders will be ill-served by closing Chapter 23 and hastily concluding EU-Croatia talks in June 2011.
My office has received concerns expressed by a number of citizens and entrepreneurs from Croatia and the region, including European businesses, regarding widespread abuse of private property rights in Croatia and the absence of the rule of law. Based on the many letters and inquiries that I have received, the following concerns must be addressed prior to the closing of Chapter 23 for Croatia.
An independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary is the cornerstone for the protection of the rights of individuals, protection of property rights and upholding of the rule of law. An independent judiciary and the rule of law are prerequisites of a democracy and a well-functioning market economy. We specifically define our objectives within Chapter 23, which states, “Member States must fight corruption effectively, as it represents a threat to the stability of democratic institutions and the rule of law.”
Croatia’s politically organized majority in the parliament has used legal mechanisms to appoint judges in an opaque manner for two decades with the most recent appointments of 57 judges made in January 2011. The ensuing political influence that this majority exudes on Croatia’s judiciary results in the continuation of high-level corruption, proper laws not being implemented when they are not favoring the “connected individuals”, court decisions not being enforced and corrupt laws remaining unchallenged.
There have also been major concerns regarding Croatia’s disregard for International Agreements entered into and Croatia's total disrespect for private property rights related to all former Yugoslavian Republics.
We believe that the backlog of unresolved court cases goes well beyond the one million reported (for a population of 4.5 million people). A great number of cases remain unresolved for decades, which violates the basic human right to a trial within reasonable time. Uncertainty for individual citizens and potential investors is evident.
A study published in 2010 by the EU Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department C - Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs, under the title, “Private Properties Issues Following the change of Political Regime in Former Socialist or Communist Countries” points out that Croatia’s legislative framework of processing property claims in the restitution and compensation process of property confiscated during the communist regime, “inherently places the Public Administration Offices of each county in a de facto conflict of interest position.”
Furthermore, the report states, “...the legislature wanted to ensure that the public or state interest was protected in the decision of the claims....” and “... potentially infringe upon the rights of citizens and other eligible claimants.”
From the correspondences that I have been receiving, I have to state that Croatia must eliminate the possibility of real or perceived conflicts of interest which defies the rule of law.
A specific problem pertains to the huge disparity between ownership rights to tenants and the infinitesimal compensation to original owners of confiscated apartments (residential buildings) which is further complicated by legal or administrative entities abusing both sides. The report also provides a specific recommendation which would require the following:
A) “...detailed investigation by the authorities of those individuals who gained property without proper tenancy rights or the rights to restitution and compensation.”
B) “...political will to regulate and sanction corruption within the Republic of Croatia.”
If I am not mistaken, local independent media reports including Index.hr allege that you Ms. Kosor live in one of those residential units after expelling original owners of Serbian nationality. Could you kindly prove me wrong?
Not only that Croatia has failed to enforce the intention of its laws by fully performing proper restitution and compensation of property confiscated during communism, but the new models of property theft are surfacing.
One of the most devious theft by the City of Zadar performed in 2003 that just surfaced in the public domain is a typical example of blatant abuse of power which brings up other similar cases that have been pushed through the court system for more than 20 years! This is a real case study of the absence of the rule of law, disregard of property rights, political corruption at the highest level of the government and a politically influenced judiciary.
Bozidar Kalmeta, a current minister of transportation in your cabinet and then Mayor of Zadar with the assistance of two of his confidantes - Ana Lovrin who became Minister of Justice in 2004 and Zdravko Livakovic who later became state secretary expropriated 15,000 square meters of land from 58 individual owners.
I would like to refresh your memory regarding the ghastly process of expropriation which transpired as follows:
1) The city of Zadar proclaimed the legitimate owners of the land in the Zadar area “of unknown residence” although they were alive and well, living in the neighborhood.
2) The local court proceeded to appoint a confidante attorney to represent the “unknown owners”.
3) During the hearing at the local court and in the absence of the attorney, the local judge gave the land to the City of Zadar.
4) The city then sold the land to individuals for private use.
5) The original owners have been in the court since and are still seeking justice.
The same pattern took place in the City of Rijeka whereby the city refuses to pay the owners of the expropriated land for more than 20 years!
In light of this blatant abuses of power and political corruption, we as elected officials of the European Parliament with judicious fiduciary responsibility on behalf of EU taxpayers must call for the cancelation of any EU funds that we are providing to these corrupt local governments.
Four months ago, the 2010 EU progress report for Croatia clearly mentioned, “The concept of conflict of interest is still little understood in Croatia, especially at local level. There is limited monitoring of legal compliance and the sanctions available are ineffective.”
I do not believe that we can expect that Croatia’s government will respect and fulfill the EU Chapter 23 - Justice and Fundamental Rights. The same political structures hold executive and legislative power and elect members of judiciary to yield an influence on them. In light of these obvious deficiencies, it is not possible to resolve the cases of political corruption and bring the culprits to justice. There is clearly no division of power within today’s Croatia.
Prior to allowing Croatia’s political structures to complete the EU negotiations, I strongly recommend a robust monitoring mechanism for Croatia and visiting judges from strong rule of law nations to expedite the cases related to protection of property rights and resolve the cases of political corruption from prosecution to the final conviction.
Otherwise we risk bringing corruptive practices and politicians right into the heart of the EU. Furthermore, the EU can not provide a seal of approval that would mislead individual investors and Croatia’s own citizens to invest in property in Croatia.
Roger Helmer Member of the European Parliament United Kingdom
Roger Helmer, MEP, UK represents 4.1 million constituents in the East Midlands and formerly served on the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee.
Since 2006, Mr Helmer has been actively engaged in Croatia's accession process hosting events including the Adriatic Institute's strategic event on Croatia's judiciary chaired by The Economist's Edward Lucas and regular briefings with Geoffrey Van Orden, MEP, UK and colleagues from Eastern Europe dedicated to strengthening the rule of law and protection of property rights in Europe.
According to Roger Helmer, his office received a significant number of letters from Croatia's citizens regarding the nation's weak rule of law and protection of property rights. Helmer also visited Croatia to meet with Croatian entrepreneurs, local investors, academics and individual taxpayers who shared their experiences of a politically influenced judiciary and widespread corruption.
Mr. Helmer has also raised valid questions regarding EU member state taxpayer funds sent to Croatia (government to government transfers) without any results. The EU has carved out nearly 400 hundred million euros to aid Croatia's reform process. Croatia's government eagerly awaits 4 billion euros from EU member state taxpayers upon entering the Union.
In a newly released report highlighted in the Spectator's blog (Thursday, March 24, 2011), Fraser Nelson states:
"The cost of Croatia, and our EU membership. The OBR estimates that “the expected accession of Croatia in 2013 … could cost the UK up to £200 million per year in the long run.” Not something you’ll hear William Hague admit. The EU may be forced to tighten its belt in the 2014-20 spending round, says the OBR, but it will let spending rip beforehand."
Since the mid-1990s, Croatia has received over $1.4 billion from American and EU member state taxpayers without any results.