Recommendation 46 (1998)1 on the state of local and regional democracy in Croatia

The Congress,

1. Pursuant to Resolution 58 (1997) on the situation of local democracy in member countries, in particular para. 11, listing Croatia as one of the countries in which major problems of local democracy exist, and para. 13, specifically devoted to this country;

2. Having regard to para. of Opinion No. 195 (1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly on Croatia’s request for membership of the Council of Europe, which states that Croatia undertook to sign and ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government within one year of its accession (6 November 1996) and to consult the Council of Europe experts on the bill revising the draft Local Administration and Autonomy Act;

3. Having regard to the results of the many visits made by the CLRAE to Croatia since 1993 and the Conclusions of the various reports on the situation of local and regional democracy in Croatia, adopted by the Bureau and the Standing Committee of the Congress in February 1996;

4. Having sent a delegation composed of two co-Rapporteurs, Helene Lund (Denmark, L) and Josef Leinen (Germany, R), accompanied by a consultant, to Croatia in October 1997 and again in February 1998;

5. Thanking the Croatian authorities and the local democracy embassies in Croatia for their support during these visits;

6. Considers it necessary to address to the Croatian government authorities the following considerations and recommendations, based on the report appended to this Recommendation:

6.1 Welcoming the fact that the Croatian Government signed and ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 19 September 1997, within one year of its accession to the Council of Europe, in accordance with the commitments entered into upon its accession;

6.2 Regrets, however, that when ratifying the Charter the Croatian Government made considerable use of the options in Article 12 of the Charter and consequently did not accept certain important provisions, such as those provided for in Article 4 paras. 3, 5 and 6, Article 8 para. 3, Article 9 paras. 5 and 7 and Article 10 para. 2 of the Charter;

6.3 Considers that, in view of both the spirit of the undertaking to ratify the Charter given by Croatia on its accession and the aim of Article 12, the Charter should be ratified as fully as possible, and therefore calls on this country to extend the scope of applicability of the Charter, in particular to the articles mentioned in para. 6.2 above, as rapidly as possible;

6.4 Considers that, in the meantime, as the Charter is in the process of becoming generally acknowledged as a principle of European law, the instrument of ratification deposited by Croatia on 11 October in Strasbourg does not exempt this state from respecting all the fundamental principles that it incorporates;

6.5 In view of a number of specific examples of actions of the Croatian government, in particular the election of the Mayor of Zagreb and of the Regional Assembly of the Zupanja of Primorsko Goranska, considers that the Local Administration and Autonomy Act does not effectively guarantee local self-government and compliance with election results and that it is therefore imperative that it be urgently amended;

6.6. Regrets that, despite renewed promises to amend Croatian legislation on local self-government with the assistance of Council of Europe experts in accordance with the commitments entered into upon its accession, no progress has been made in this respect and reiterates its support and its readiness as and when required to implement the Croatian Government’s proposal that a joint committee, composed of experts from the Croatian Parliament and from the Council of Europe, be set up, in consultation with representatives of the Croatian Government authorities, and local and regional authorities, to make a detailed examination of the various parts of the law which need to be amended, given that the present report can on no account be considered a full opinion on the matter, as the Congress has not yet been able to examine the bill revising the law;

6.7 Firmly reiterates the call in para. 13a of Resolution 58 (1997) for rapid revision of the provisions of the law instituting the duality of office of the County Governors and the Mayor of Zagreb and conferring discretionary power on the President of the Republic to confirm their election, or otherwise, so as either :

i. to specify the sole criteria under which the Head of State can refuse to recognise the election of the Mayor of Zagreb or the County Governors (Zupan); or

ii. to grant to distinct persons on the one hand the duties of the Mayor of Zagreb and the County Governors in their capacity as representatives of territorial authorities and on the other hand the duties conferred as state representatives in Zagreb and at county (Zupan) level;

6.8 Recommends that the Croatian authorities ensure that the legislative reform also includes a right enabling Croatian local and regional authorities to ask a competent and independent court, to examine government decisions interpreting the law, in accordance with Article 11 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was accepted by Croatia when it ratified the Charter;

6.9 Notes with satisfaction that the Croatian local and regional authorities believe that their situation has generally improved over the last few years but considers the persistent lack of clarity with regard to the distribution of powers between the various levels of government and the inadequacy of resources made available to local and regional authorities to exercise these powers to be a serious source of concern;

6.10 Stresses the need for a clearer distribution of powers, accompanied by resources commensurate with the responsibilities of the various levels of authority; distributed according to well-established procedures, in accordance with the principles of the Charter;

6.11 Considers some provisions of Section 11 of the Local Administration and Autonomy Act to be contrary to the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and in particular Article 10 thereof, since these provisions make it impossible in practice to set up a legally recognised association of local authorities if it is composed of fewer than half of the municipalities and towns, and has doubts as to whether this provision is compatible with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

6.12 Welcomes the fact that statutory provisions on transfrontier co-operation designed to clarify the possibilities offered to local and regional authorities in this field are being drafted and calls on Croatia to sign and ratify the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities and its Additional Protocol as soon as possible;

6.13 Aware of the fact that, following the establishment of the Republic of Croatia, the legal situation of immovable property and the tourist industry - which were previously self-managed – has not been completely settled, calls on the Croatian Government to clarify the matter as rapidly as possible;

6.14 Aware of the fact that other Bills on local self-government are currently being drafted, particularly on local finances and the distribution of powers between municipalities, towns and Zupanije, urges the Croatian authorities, given the fundamental importance of all these instruments - including those concerning transfrontier co-operation - for the proper functioning of local self-government, to involve the Council of Europe experts from the outset in the review of the laws concerned;

6.15 Expresses its concern at the situation in the zone previously administered by UNTAES and the major operating difficulties encountered by the local institutions elected in 1997, which may cause the population in this zone to lose confidence in the ability of these institutions to make an effective contribution to improving their living conditions and therefore tarnish the credibility of the principles of local self-government and asks the Croatian Government to keep it informed of changes in the situation in Eastern Slavonia and in the operation of the institutions of local democracy in this part of the country and furthermore calls on it to hasten the return of displaced persons and refugees so as to strengthen local democracy in both the municipalities from which they originate and their host municipalities;

6.16 Calls on Croatian local and regional authorities and their Associations, and the Croatian Government, to organise, as soon as possible, in conjunction with the Congress, a major conference on the progress of local and regional democracy and the relevant legislative reforms, as proposed in the CLRAE’s report on the situation of local and regional democracy in Croatia at the time of its accession;

7. Welcomes the initiative taken by the Croatian Government and the Osijek local democracy embassy in organising training schemes for elected local and regional representatives and asks the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to support this important initiative through the LODE Programme and the voluntary contributions set aside for local and regional democracy in Croatia;

8. Calls on the Committee of Ministers to take account of these recommendations in its assessment of the honouring of the commitments entered into by Croatia at the time of its accession and to support, by providing sufficient funds, and promote co-operation programmes, if possible, with the assistance of other international organisations and the European Union, particularly within the framework of the Congress, the LDEs and the LODE programme, with a view to carrying through the necessary reforms in the field of local and regional self-government, putting civil society back on a sound footing, facilitating the return of refugees and displaced persons and supporting the economic reconstruction of the country, which has been seriously affected by the armed conflict in this part of Europe.

1 Debated by the Congress and adopted on 28 May 1998, 3rd sitting (see Document CG (5) 4, Draft Recommendation presented by Ms H. Lund and Mr J. Leinen, Rapporteurs).