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CROATIA: Government attacks on civil society supported by EU funds

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– Analysis by GONG, published on 9 June 2020, accessible here

Many civil society organisations in Croatia are suffering from burnout and exhaustion, and have been at brink of existence for a long time, with less and less time for the most important part of their job and their very reason for existence – solving social problems and creating positive social change.

Gong publishes analysis with recommendations for a different approach to civil society and for more efficient use of EU funds.

Financial exhaustion and administrative violence are being perpetrated against civil society organisations in Croatia through the European Social Fund, the Efficient Human Resources Operational Programme 2014-2020 managed by the Ministry of Labour and the Pension System. Specifically, the program has not complied with the tender announcement calendar, tenders have not been published, they have frequently been suspended or cancelled, there have been delays in responding to inquiries and requests, complex rules and procedures, inconsistency among implementing bodies and vague answers given to questions, all marked by lack of flexibility and transparency.

The government, led by Prime Minister Plenković, approached the process of destroying civil society thoroughly. First, Plenković staffed the Foundation for Civil Society Development with people loyal to him, followed by the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs, a move in which Minister Pavić, then the Minister of Labour and the Pension System, later Minister of Regional Development and EU Funds, played an important role.

And while CSOs and other beneficiaries of EU funds are waiting for tenders and notifications, filling in tables, timesheets and Applications for Reimbursement, collecting evidence for indicators, calculating the percentage of work time, adding and subtracting decimals, calculating and deducting plastic bottle return fees on invoices, conducting public procurement for staples, photocopying and scanning documents, top government officials are using public funds and grants as ATMs for private gain and to strengthen clientelism and further gain control over the state.

The recommendations for a different approach to civil society and for the more efficient management of EU funds, for a new government that will be smarter and fairer than the current one, are very simple:

  • The processes of programming, publishing and conducting tenders and evaluating project proposals should be made as transparent as possible. The implementation of this recommendation only requires (good) political will.
  • The processes should be simplified to the minimum rules necessary for project processing and implementation to run legally and for funds to be spent justifiably and purposefully.

Read the full report here