Why Croatia is the EU’s latest member to embrace the far right


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Good morning. Major news from last night: Vladimir Putin has dismissed his long-standing defence minister Sergei Shoigu, suggesting the Russian president is dissatisfied with the handling of his war against Ukraine.

Also, Spain’s ruling Socialists comfortably defeated hardline separatists in Catalonia’s regional election yesterday, and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda is on track for re-election after winning 44 per cent of the first-round ballot.

Today, our man in the Balkans reports on the latest EU government coalition to feature the far right, and our Paris bureau chief talks to the man reviving France’s centre-left.

Influence

Another election, another EU government featuring far-right nationalists. This time, it’s Croatia, writes Marton Dunai.

Incumbent conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenković will remain in office after he followed election victory with a coalition agreement with a far-right nationalist party that once split from his own HDZ for being too soft on social and international issues. 

Context: The ruling coalitions of Finland, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia all feature right-wing nationalist groups, while Sweden’s is propped up by a nationalist party. The far-right won November’s Dutch election.

Plenković, a moderate right-wing leader who has governed Croatia for eight years, received his reappointment on Friday. 

Hours later, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was in the southern coastal city of Split campaigning alongside him for their European People’s party at the EU elections next month, praising what she called “the amazing Croatian success story . . . of HDZ and EPP”.

Von der Leyen will need both his and his party’s support to win a second term as president.

But to maintain his domestic majority, Plenković will have to make concessions to the Homeland Movement, which might endanger advances achieved for minorities, especially the country’s ethnic Serbs, analysts have warned.

The Homeland Movement has lambasted Plenković for not stepping up against migrants harder, and echoed nativist views of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who blames the ills of the west on liberalism and international institutions. 

Plenković has rejected such apprehensions, saying his coalition “won’t change” Croatia’s direction.

“We have had achievements in areas of human rights, minority rights, inclusion, and dialogue — and they are not going to be rolled back,” Plenković told reporters near Zagreb.

Croatia, the last member to join the EU a decade ago, has since become a member of the border-free Schengen area and the Eurozone, and plans to join the OECD.

“Croatia is not the same today as eight years ago,” Plenković said. “Empowered by our international position and the policy of modern sovereignty, we accomplish our national tasks faster and more efficiently.”

Chart du jour: Divergence

Can Europe’s economy ever hope to rival the US again? As EU policymakers scramble for ways to inject some dynamism, we analyse the continent’s chronic underperformance.

Revival

Raphaël Glucksmann, a Parisian writer and activist turned EU lawmaker now running for re-election, has a message for his fellow compatriots on the fragmented French left: smile more.

“The left cannot be the camp that sulks all the time,” he tells Leila Abboud. “That is often how we appear.”

Context: The June 6-9 European elections are forecast to result in a more fractured European parliament, as a rise in support for far-right parties pressures the continent’s traditionally dominant centre-right and centre-left groups.

Glucksmann’s campaign as the head of the election list for the Socialist party and his own small Place Publique party has been more joyful as evidenced by crowded rallies and motivated campaign volunteers — such “Glucksmania” is a big change for the French centre-left that has been moribund for more than a decade.

He is polling only three points behind President Emmanuel Macron’s struggling candidate, MEP Valérie Hayer, but both are still far behind the far-right Rassemblement National. 

But the price to pay for a potential revival of the moderate left is the return of the vicious infighting with the radical left led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party.  

Although the different factions of the left were in a shortlived alliance in 2022, the European elections have exposed again their deep rifts, especially on foreign affairs, from EU integration to the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“We all know that what divided the French left and what was swept under the rug was primarily the question of the EU and international issues,” he said. 

Glucksmann argued the election will “settle the line” by finally ending such debates. That optimism may prove unfounded if the centre-left’s revival just brings back old ghosts of les gauches irréconciliables — the irreconcilable factions on the left.

What to watch today

  1. The prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden meet Germany’s chancellor in Stockholm.

  2. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara.

  3. Eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels.

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