Strasbourg, 24 May 1994

Monitoring Report 1994 CPL/BUR (28) 36 rev

Report by the delegation of the CLRAE Bureau on its fact-finding mission in Croatia (5-8 May 1994)

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INTRODUCTION

The decision to send a delagation on a fact-finding mission to Croatia was taken by the Bureau on 7 February 1994.

The delegation consisted of:

Mr HOFMANN, Vice-President (Germany)

Mr MARTINI, Vice-President (Italy)

Mr MORGAN, Vice-President (United Kingdom)

The delegation was accompanied by Mr Locatelli, Executive Secretary of the CLRAE.

The delegation's main assignments were to assemble information on the

general situation of local and regional democracy in Croatia, the associations of local authorities being formed in that country and the degree to which they are genuinely representative, and to give an opinion on the advisability of granting special guest status to Croatia within the framework of the new Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe.

For the first day in Zagreb, the programme was set up with the help of the Association of municipalities and towns of Croatia (an "official" association); from then on, it was a case of establishing direct contact with the local and regional authorities of Osijek, Sisek, Rijeka and Istria. It was an extremely full programme of visits, some very early in the morning, involving meetings on nine successive occasions with more than fifty prominent figures well qualified to represent local and regional authority, belonging to all the political parties of Croatia, plus members of the Government and of both Chambers of the Croatian Parliament. The talks were very often followed by encounters with the press although in some cases journalists were actually present during the talks. Press coverage in the newspapers and audiovisual media was considerable. The report which follows starts with delegation's main conclusions and continues with a summary of the various talks that were held, giving the names of the leading figures who were present.

MAIN CONCLUSIONS TO BE DRAWN FROM THE MISSION

1. Award of special guest status to Croatia

This question was discussed in detail with everyone the delegation met, ministers, parliamentarians, members of the various associations and representatives of all the Croatian parties.

The delegation noted a general wish on everyone's part for contact between the Council of Europe and Croatia to be stepped up. Everyone, and especially the representatives of the main opposition parties (the Social and Liberal party, the Social Democrat Party, the Peasant Party, and the Regional Party of Istria) clearly expressed the wish that special guest status be granted to Croatia, because they felt that closer co-operation with the Council of Europe was a sure way of helping democracy to flourish in their country. For this reason, and in view of a number of other conclusions which will be set out later in this report, the delegation unanimously recommends that the new Congress grant special guest status to Croatia, on the understanding that Croatia will thus be invited to constitute an all- party five-member delegation to sit in the new Congress. The need to apply the criteria of political pluralism, geographical balance and equitable sharing between the regional and local levels of government was clearly presented in all the talks and everyone the delegation spoke to undertook to abide by them. Similarly, the possibility was mentioned of one of the two Croatian representatives invited provisionally to attend the first session of the Congress being a member of the majority party, and one of the other a member of the main opposition parties.

2. Situation of local democracy in Croatia

As it will emerge from the account of the delegation's talks, there is an encouraging side to the situation of local democracy in Croatia; however a number of difficulties do still arise which will need to be remedied in time.

The encouraging points are, briefly, that Croatia's institutions at both level of government, the local and the regional, are democratically elected. As a counterpart to the institutional Law on local government, a Law on local finance was enacted early year which allocates 25% of income tax revenue to the local communities, 5% to the regional institutions and 70% to central government. The local and regional authorities are also empowered to levy certain local taxes of minor importance.

Although it is difficult at the present time to judge what effects the implementation of this law is having, one encouraging development is that the division of responsibilities and resources between one level and another is being clarified. Also, the local and regional communities have a right of appeal to the Constitutional Court and other appeal bodies against measures taken at regional and central government level respectively. Although several appeals are currently being heard, it is still difficult to make judgements as to their effective outcome.

Lastly, the Croatian Parliament has adopted a resolution of adherence to the principle of the European Charter of local Self-Government even though, not being a member country, Croatia cannot formally adhere to the Charter. It remains to be seen, for example from the progress of the appeals currently before the courts, whether the parliament's formal resolution regarding the Charter is having a tangible effect on a judicial level where the guarantee of local self-government in Croatia is concerned.

A number of problems were detected during the fact-finding mission. Firstly, a lack of clarity over the precise division of powers between the local, regional and central levels of government sometimes makes for strained relations between one level of government. Then there is the fact that the legal personality of the regions (Zupanya) is not clearly established by the law in so far as the region is both a local entity with its own autonomy and a representative of the state's authority in the region. Thus the President of the Zupanya, although elected by the Regional Council, must be confirmed in office by the President of the Republic in so far as one of his roles is that of head administrator. 1 In only five of the 21 existing Zupanya (these include Zagreb, which is both a town and region) does an opposition party hold the majority, whereas a considerably larger proportion of the country's 69 municipalities is controlled by the opposition, not least the three main towns after Zagreb, namely Osijek, Rijek and Split. This obviously causes tension not only between municipal and central government but also between the town councils and the Zupanya. Two other problems were identified by the delegation. The first of these is the division of public property, a problem which also derives from the fact that the number of Croatian local authorities went up from about a hundred to 489 (69 towns and 420 municipalities) after the reform introduced by the new Republic.

Bearing in mind, too, that the Zupanya are an entirely new creation, it is obvious that in a country which is partially in a state of war, the division of former local authority possessions into such a large number of entities raises serious problems. Furthermore, a new law is shortly to be adopted in this field. It would seem reasonable for the central government to agree to decentralise a part of its possessions to the regional level.

The municipalities in the regions are also laying claim to part of the "social property" which for the time being has apparently not been privatised or decentralised, thus enabling the central government to maintain its hold on a significant part of the country's heritage and assets.

It seems, too, that many enterprises and state-owned businesses which provide chiefly municipal and regional services are still in the hands of the region or the state respectively. The reduced number of local authority employees is clear evidence of the weakness of the administrative machinery at the mayor's disposal. Also, a number of towns are demanding legislation that would grant them more powers and resources than to the municipalities whose tasks and duties are not comparable. Only Zagreb has special status as both town and region, and receives 45% of income tax revenue, that is to say 15% more than for the rest of the country.

3. Associations of local and regional authorities in Croatia

Officially there are at present two legally established associations:

- the Association of Towns and Municipalities of the Republic of Croatia

- the Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria and Islands.

Another association which is apparently being formed is

- the Association of the Towns of Croatia.

Moves would seem to be under-way to create regional associations of towns and municipalities in a number of other regions.

The first of the associations mentioned is in fact the result of the reconstitution, decided early this year, of the former association to which the CLRAE previously granted observer status. It has all the appearances of an association formed for the most part by towns and municipalities of the ruling party, the HTZ, and a number of small allied parties such as the Christian Democratic Party. It is possible that the municipalities held by other parties have been admitted to membership or simply attend the Association's meetings without joining.

The main opposition party representatives whom we encountered are nevertheless of the opinion that it is an association masterminded by the ruling party; this explains why the principal towns outside Zagreb (Osijek, Rijeka and Split) have formed another grouping for towns only, of which some 40 of the country's 69 towns are reportedly active members. This grouping, which has already held ten meetings, is said to limit its action to the study of concrete problems faced by the towns, and to include among its members not only towns controlled by the opposition but also a number of towns controlled by the majority party. This may be one reason why the organisers of the grouping have decided for the time being not to give it the status of an association, fearing that this might have the effect of deterring certain HDZ-ruled towns from participating.

The Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria and Islands, on the other hand, brings together practically all the municipalities of this region including the town of Opatiya which for the present belongs to the region of Rijeka. This is not surprising since the Regional Party of Istria won 70% of the vote in this region.

We were told, although the delegation was not able to check the details, that under a law of the Croatian Parliament, an association of local and regional authorities is disqualified from having official contacts with the European organisations and the international associations of local authorities if it does not represent at least 50% of local authorities. We made it clear that if such a provision were confirmed, it would be manifestly incompatible with the principle of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and, more generally, with the principle of pluralism upheld by the Council of Europe.

Since at the present time even the National Association of Municipalities and Towns probably does not have this degree of representativity, such a law would be difficult to apply because, strictly speaking, no association would be entitled to have such contacts.

4. Observations of a political nature

The situation in Croatia is clearly made more difficult by the partial state of war, the occupation of Croatian territory by the Serbs and the presence in the country of extremely large numbers of refugees, in particular in the areas close to the occupied territories (as we found, for example, at Osijek and in the region of Sisak) but also in the town of Zagreb which is sanctuary for some 100,000 refugees. The delegation found, on the other hand, that in the more prosperous areas such as Rijeka and Istria, the number of refugees is at present appreciably lower.

Such a situation, characterised by tension, economic hardship and unequal sharing of the refugee burden, is not conducive to dispassionate political dialogue. It is certain, too, that dialogue between the ruling majority and the opposition is still strained. The opposition in particular would appear to be comparatively weak, which was one of the main reasons given by Mr Mesic, President of the Sabor, and Mr Manolic, President of the Assembly of Regions, for resigning from the ruling party. This is clearly a political event of major importance which may influence the development of relations between majority and opposition in Croatia. Most of those to whom we spoke said that they were convinced that a better balance between majority and opposition would help to improve the working of democracy in Croatia.

The delegation was able to gather information on the coexistence between the Croat majority and the Serb minority in the towns close to the occupied zone. Their coexistence seems fairly satisfactory in view of the circumstances; a number of Serb representatives are moreover present in the municipal councils and took part in meetings with the CLRAE delegation.

This is also borne out by the fact that a number of citizens belonging to the Serb minority have recently left the zone under Serb control and returned to their homes on the other side of the demarcation line.

5. Some practical proposals

5.1 The Local Democracy Embassies

The delegation was able to see how useful the Local Democracy Embassy in Osijek was being and how well it was working. Those in charge of this Embassy took a large share of this work of organising the Osijek visit. The delegation also took note of the wish of the local and regional authorities of the region of Sisak to see the proposed Embassy set up in that town as soon as possible, a scheme launched by the region of Venezia and the Association of municipalities of Venezia. The hope was expressed that other towns and regions would quickly join in. The delegation also noted the wish of the local and regional representatives of Istria to have a Local Democracy Embassy set up in their region now that some contacts have been established with towns of the Ticino. Here too, the delegation strongly recommends the creation of such an Embassy, which would contribute to better dialogue between this region's representatives and those of the government.

5.2 Proposed Conference on local democracy in Croatia

Throughout all of its encounters, the delegation mentioned the idea of organising a conference in Croatia - if the local, regional and national authorities so wished - for the purpose of taking stock of the initial years of local democracy in Croatia and, in particular, of endeavours to clarify the division of powers between the central government, the regions and the municipalities and improve their mutual relations. As financial considerations are of particular importance in such a process, it would be necessary to monitor the implementation of the new law on local and regional finance over a period of some months, which means that at the earliest the Conference would take place at the end of 1994 or even at the beginning of 1995.

This proposal aroused great interest in all those to whom we spoke, several of whom regretted that the Council of Europe was so little present in Croatia, especially where local democracy was concerned. The delegation made the point that the LODE Programme acted only at the express request of the country's authorities, or at least at the request of one or more associations of local and regional authorities.

5.3 Suspension of the statute adopted by the Regional Assembly of Istria

The delegation was informed that the region of Istria had adopted a regional statute in full compliance with the law, a practice with which a number of countries are familiar. The region of Istria was one of the only regions to have prepared a Statute within the required time. This Statute was declared illegal by the central government, and the region of Istria launched an appeal with the Constitutional Court. The delegation received a copy of the Statute in Italian and a copy in English of the arguments used to declare it invalid. Naturally it was not possible for the delegation to go deeply into this question which would require a study of the Croatian Constitution, of the insitutional law on local and regional government and of a number of other Croatian texts, as well as the Osimo agreement concluded in earlier times between the Italian government and the Federation of Yugoslavia, in respect of which Croatia had agreed to assume responsibility for implementation.

What is known for certain is that the regional authorities of Istria incorporated into their statute elements for the implementation of constitutional provisions and of provisions of the Osimo agreement, in particular in linguistic, cultural and economic matters. In particular, the central government contests the provision concerning the introduction of bilingualism, those concerning the cultural identity of Istria and those insisting a regional referendum. Furthermore, in a general way, it is objected that the region is seen as a self-governing administrative entity. This is clearly a highly complex question on the substance of which the delegation did not wish to give an opinion. The delegation did, however, express the hope that constructive dialogue would take place on the matter of this statute, which was apparently not the case either at the time when the statute was drafted, still less at the time of the government's decision to declare it illegal and unconstitutional.

Moreover, the delegation has noted that the statute undertake to implement principles established by the European Charter on Local Self-government approved by the Croatian Parliament. The statute also implements the principles of the European Charter of Regional and Minorities Languages which is not adopted by the Croatian Parliament.

Since the question of implementing agreements such as the Osimo agreement arises in other contexts, experts of the Council of Europe could be sent if all parties concerned agreed. This would certainly be in accordance with the recommendations formulated by the Heads of State at the Vienna Summit.

APPENDIX

SUMMARY OF THE TALKS WITH CROATIAN OFFICIALS

1. MEETING WITH THE ASSOCIATION OF TOWNS AND MUNICIPALITIES OF THE REPUBLIC OF CROATIA

(5 May 1994, 9 am to 1215)

The meeting was attended by:

- Mr Bozo Biškupi_, Deputy Mayor of Zagreb;

- Mr Jure Kolak, Mayor of Vukovar and Vice-President of the Association;

- Mrs Ivana Susec-Travoštanec, Head of the Sveti Ivan Zabno Municipality and Deputy President of the Association;

- Mr Darlo Pavlak, Mayor of Sisak;

- Mr Zvonimir Markotic, Deputy Mayor of Slavonski Brod;

- Mr Ante Šupuk, Mayor of Šibenik;

- Mr Milivoj Ladic, Mayor of Varazdin;

- Mr Damir Begovic, Mayor of the Pitomaca Municipality;

- Mr Marin Šimunic, Secretary of the Department of Justice and Administration of the city of Zagreb;

- Mrs Irena Bakal, Secretary of the Association of Towns and Municipalities of the Republic of Croatia.

We began by discussing the problems of the city region of Zagreb, the working of the municipal bodies and the plan to create neighbourhood councils as a means of decentralising the municipal administration on the model of Vienna (Austria). Special problems associated with the presence of 100,000 refugees in Zagreb were also mentioned. Later we were joined by the mayors and deputy mayors, of whom all except three were members of the opposition party: for two belonged to opposition parties and one to the Christian Democratic Party which co-operates with the HDZ. Financial problems occupied a considerable part of the discussion, and the representatives of the majority party considered that the new law provided the local and regional authorities with sufficient financial resources. On the other hand, the representative of the Social Liberal Party thought that even under the new law, the resources were far from sufficient, less even that the endowment to which local authorities had been entitled at the time of the Yugoslav Federation.

It emerged from the discussion that before the adoption in January 1994 of the law on local government finance, the resources were not available for local self-government to work properly. At present, the main problems concern the distribution of assets between the various local authorities and the Zupanya. Similarly, the role and economic powers of the local authorities are not clearly defined. Also, according to the opposition representative, the regions are more like central government agencies than autonomous units.

The discussion also revealed that in several local communities there are coalitions or even variable majorities depending on the matter under discussion. In the region of Sisak, according to the mayor of that town, coexistence among ethnic groups is satisfactory and a sizeable number of Serbs have come back to the territories occupied by Croatia. Serbs are present in several municipal councils, including those of Sisak, Sibenik and Varazdin.

Opinions also differed as to the role played by the majority party. One view, backed up by examples, is that it is very much open to the idea of forming municipal coalitions, albeit run by an allied party such as the Christian Democrats; another is that it tends to impose its own representatives to preside over municipal and regional councils in many places. The Association's representatives described their action in regard to the government which often involved a critical stand. Their demand was for more resources to be placed at the disposal of the local authorities.

The Mayor of Vukovar, a mayor elected by refugees dispersed throughout the territory of Croatia, spoke of the special difficulties inherent in such a situation. He estimated that 2,500 inhabitants of Vukovar, including 900 children, could be listed as having "disappeared".

There followed a lengthy discussion on the Association's change of status under the new Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, from that of observer to that of special guest. There was also a favourable response to the proposal for a conference under the aegis of the Council of Europe which would take stock of local democracy in Croatia (see the general conclusions).

2. MEETING AT THE MINISTRY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

(5 May 1994, from 2.30 to 3.30 pm)

The meeting was attended by:

- Dr Mladen Andrlic, Head of the Department for European Integration and European Associations (DEIA)


- Dr Stanko Nick, Ambassador, Head of the Department of International Legal Affairs

- Mr Tomislav Car and Miss Narcisa Becirevic, professional advisers.

This discussion touched first on new arrangements regarding the status of non-member countries within the Congress and a request for special status transmitted under cover of the international authorities.

With regard to co-operation between the Council of Europe and Croatia in general, and in the field of local government, those to whom we spoke clearly expressed the wish to receive more technical assistance from the Council of Europe. Up till now, the country has received many technical delegations from different countries, but these bilateral contacts do not always produce the desired results. The time has come, they told us, for technical co-operation with the Council of Europe to be stepped up, since what Croatia needs is multilateral assistance.

In this connection they spoke highly of the action of the Commission for Democracy through Law, or "Venice Commission". They are definitely hoping for assistance in the field of local democracy. They also referred to a delegation in the media field and the preparation of a new law on the media which incorporates the recommendations of the Council of Europe experts.

3. DISCUSSION AT THE MINISTRY OF TERRITORIAL ADMINISTRATION

(5 May 1994, from 3.45 to 4.30 pm)

The meeting was attended by:

- Mr Davorin Mlakar, Minister of Administration;

- Mr Ivan Majdak, Minister without portfolio, responsible for economic affairs in the self-governing local and regional communities;

- Dr Petar Sindicic, Adviser to the Government of the Republic of Croatia;

- Mrs Zeljka Sain-Maroslavac, Head of the Department of Local Self-Government with the Ministry of Administration.

The talks provided a certain amount of clarification in particular with regard to the new legislation on local government finance. Following questions by members of the delegation, they agreed that the regional institutions had a twofold role: they were instruments of regional autonomy, but they were principally central government representatives in the regions.


With regard to the financial situation, they consider that the new law should give new opportunities to the local and regional authorities, although 3 or 4 months after its enactment it is too early to make a considered assessment. They nevertheless emphasised that although the local and regional authorities own revenue is modest by comparison with the taxes transferred from the state, they are completely free to use that revenue at their discretion. They admitted that there could be tension between the regional government and a number of city councils owing to the fact that in sixteen regions out of 21 the HDZ Party and its allies holds the majority whereas most towns are in the hands of the opposition.

Those to whom we spoke were very interested in the idea of technical co-operation with the experts of the Council of Europe; they regretted that no such co-operation had yet been granted, to which the delegation replied that it was for the Croatian Government to make a request.

4. TALKS WITH THE PARLIAMENT OF CROATIA

(5 May 1994, from 4.35 to 6 pm)

- Dr Zarko Domljan, Deputy President of the House of Representatives and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Sabor;

- Mr Luka Bebic, Chairman of the Committee for Internal Affairs and National Security of the House of Representatives;

- Mr Ante Klaric, Chairman of the Committee on Legislation of the House of Representatives;

- Mr Tihomir Zovak, Chairman of the Commission on Local Self-Government, Economic Affairs and Finance of the Regional Assembly;

- Mrs Jasna Vitas-Zubi, independent adviser to Mr Domljan.

The delegates noted that all the representatives had been selected on the basis of their function within the parliament, and that all belonged to the majority party.

The discussion centred on the composition of the parliament and also the composition of the Assembly of Zupanya whose members include three representatives of each region elected directly by their parties. Information was then provided on the former association of municipalities and towns of Croatia which had been granted observer status with the CLRAE, its dissolution after the local elections and the creation of a new association whose objective, according to our hosts, is to achieve global representation spanning all disciplines. Our hosts nevertheless admitted that this objective had not yet been achieved and that for various reasons few municipalities and towns had so far joined the Association. Where the Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria was concerned, the Croatian parliament has no objection provided that the association remains loyal to the Croatian state. The question of special guest status was discussed in this connection.

Asked about the advisability of regional and municipal communities joining the same association or two separate ones, our delegation replied that the second formula was to be preferred, and that most Council of Europe member countries applied it. The question also arose of the opportunity offered to some municipalities to change their region now that 300 applications had been submitted for consideration. The representatives of the Croatian parliament told the delegation that new legislation was currently under consideration on the question of municipal assets and local authority enterprises, questions inevitably bound up with the privatisation issue.

5. ENCOUNTER WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE CROATIAN PARLIAMENT SABOR

(5 May 1994, from 6 to 7 pm)

The meeting was attended by:

- Mr Stjepan Mesic, President of the House of Representatives

- Mrs Anrina Pavlinic, Adviser to the President.

This was a particularly important meeting since it came barely four days after the decision of the President of the Croatian parliament, Mr Mesic, and his colleague Mr Manolic, President of the Regional Assembly, to resign from the HDZ Party within which they had risen to the rank of President of the two houses of parliament.

Mr Mesic is in favour of a Croatia founded on the five traditional regions whose emblems featured on the Croatian national flag, namely Slavonia, Istria, Dalmatia, Zagreb and the region of Dubrovnik. In his opinion, these regions have always constituted Croatia despite wide differences between them.

He advocated the recognition of a large measure of regional autonomy, including the possibility of setting up transfrontier co-operation schemes, not least in cultural matters. For him, Croatian nationalism is a thing of the past, and working for greater regionalisation in Croatia is in fact one way of helping Croatia to develop and improve its structure. He is therefore wholly in favour of energetic action by the Council of Europe in this respect. He also spoke out clearly in support of making Croatia a window onto Europe and strengthening its ties with Europe. For him, Croatia's only enemy is Serbia; where all the other neighbouring countries are concerned, namely Bosnia, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, the wisest policy is to seek their co-operation.

Inevitably, the discussion moved onto current affairs and the reasons which prompted two such important people as Mr Mesic and Mr Manolic to resign from the majority party.

Mr Mesic indicated clearly that his main reason was the weakness of an opposition incapable of standing up to the party in power and the consequent danger of a slide towards a single-party system. For him, the model advocated by the President of the Republic was old-fashioned and obsolete. That was why they had decided to found a party for Croatian Democratic Union. One of the new party's principal aims would be to break genuinely free from the socialist economic system and to develop the country's industrial base. For Mr Mesic, the creation of an independent Croatian state cannot be an end in itself but must go together with the institution of a decentralised society which upholds human rights, operates a genuine market economy and observes a rule of law compatible with European standards.

In resigning he also sought to protest against what he saw as the President's interference, both in the internal decisions of the parliament (for example over the appointment of the committee chairmen) and in the election of judges to the Constitutional Court and other appeal bodies. In his view, the opposition must be sufficiently strong to counter these interferences with the parliament's work.

Moreover, Mr Mesic criticised the HDZ Party for its policy in Bosnia-Herzegovina until a few weeks ago, a policy which was completely at odds with the interests of the Croatian state and especially with the idea of regaining control of the Serb-occupied zones. He took the opportunity to criticise the attitude of Europeans in this conflict and in particular some schemes to divide up Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic federations. He considers the Washington agreement between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia helpful in principle, but still doubts whether there is a real will on each side to implement it, since the advocates of separate ethnic states are still in place in both the Bosnian and the Croatian camps. His solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina is an evolution towards a Swiss system with numerous ethnically diversified cantons. Where the chances of his new party are concerned, he feels sure that many MPs who so far have not had the courage to follow him may do so later. At the end of the meeting he once again emphasised the need for rapprochement between Croatia and Europe, as this is the only way of putting the country onto a more democratic path.

6. VISIT TO THE LOCAL DEMOCRACY EMBASSY AT OSIJEK

(6 May 1994, 11 am)

At 6 in the morning the delegation travelled by train from Zagreb to Osijek and there started with a short visit to the Local Democracy Embassy set up under the auspices of the CLRAE. Mr Quinet, the delegate to the Embassy, and his assistant Mr Juric, spoke to the delegation about the Embassy's activities and provided a number of documents on the subject. The visit also enabled the delegation to find out about a number of problems that arise at Osijek on both the local and the regional level, in particular the tension between the Zupanya and the town of Osijek, the former with its HDZ majority and the latter with its Social Liberal majority. The Mayor of Osijek, Mr Kramaric, is Vice-Chairman of the Social Liberal Party, which is in fact the leading opposition party.

This political situation and the existence of the Local Democracy Embassy were two factors that influenced the decision to visit Osijek, plus the fact that the town suffered considerable damage during the war with Serbia, some of which has fortunately been repaired, at least temporarily. Osijek has a fairly sizeable Serb minority.

7. DISCUSSION WITH THE MAYOR OF OSIJEK, THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE OSIJEK REGIONAL ASSEMBLY AND A NUMBER OF ELECTED LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES

(6 May, from 3 to 5.30 pm)

- Mr Kramaric, Mayor of Osijek and Vice-Chairman of the Social Liberal Party

- Mr Herrmann, Deputy Mayor of Osijek

- Mr Mihaljevic, President of the Osijek Municipal Council

- Mr Belaj, Mr Nowak, Mr Cini and Mr Kruna, members of the Osijek Municipal Council

- Mr Barisin, Vice-President of the Osijek Regional Assembly

- Mr Zdravcevic, regional legal adviser

- Mr Gardlik, Mayor of Nasice

- Mr Marinovic, Deputy Mayor of Dakovovo

- Mr Zemljak, Mayor of Valpovo

- Mr Meserovic, Mr Vikic, Mr Dopic and Mr Tankosic, members of the Sabor.

We noted that the elected representatives present were members of the Social Liberal Party, the party with a clear majority in the municipal council, the HDZ Party, the Party of Croatian Citizens and the Party of the Serb minority (one of whose members belonged to the Jewish minority).

Mr Kramaric explained the point of view of the majority of Croatian towns which, apart from Zagreb, are administered by the opposition, whereas most rural localities are administered by the majority parties. For the first time there was talk of the endeavour to create a grouping of Croatian towns which, for the time being, has not taken the form of an association. The representatives of Osijek said that under new legislation enacted by the Croatian parliament, this association would not be entitled to represent Croatian local authorities abroad because it does not bring together 51% of all Croatian municipalities. The delegation was very clear on this question, stating that if such a provision existed, it would be in complete contradiction to the European Charter of Local Self-Government and would in any case never be accepted within the Council of Europe.

We then went on to discuss transfrontier co-operation, which seems satisfactory with the neighbouring regions of Hungary. Later, we heard about the particular problems of Osijek located three kilometres from the blue line which, according to the cease-fire agreements, has been declared demilitarised. Because of its location, the town with its population of almost 200,000, has to provide shelter for some 40,000 refugees.

We then turned to the question of Croatia's participation in the work of the CLRAE, and Mr Kramaric, speaking also on behalf of the Social Liberal Party of which he is vice-Chairman, advocated the greatest possible rapprochement between Croatia and the Council of Europe. By giving 70% of the vote to his party, his town had in his view voted for Osijek's entry into present-day Europe and for a democratic Croatia open to Europe. In short, Osijek had voted for Europe and, accordingly, the mayor feels bound to work to bring the rapprochement about. Mr Kramaric said he hoped the Council of Europe would adopt a more favourable position in the interests of his country's democratic development.

Asked about relations with the country's rulers, Mr Kramaric confirmed that internal political struggles are sometimes bitter because authoritarian attitudes inherited from the past still prevail. He nevertheless feels that Europe is too severe towards Croatia, although recent political developments are more favourable. He also mentioned the difficult situation in this state of semi-war, while making it clear that that did not excuse autocratic behaviour.

Mr Herrmann, the Deputy Mayor, spoke of the economic difficulties: in the town of Osijek, 60% of the industrial potential was destroyed by the war. He therefore launched an appeal for town-to-town and region-to-region partnership. The regional vice-President who belongs to the HDZ Party made the point that 30% of the region's territory is Serb-occupied. The region had a difficult job helping the 30 municipalities to get organised and to work as far as possible for balanced development.

The working of Croatia's justice system came in for some criticism: a number of rules needed to be brought into line with the Constitution and with European standards.

The delegation asked several questions about the strained relations between region and town. According to the representatives of the region and the town, each side was trying to score points, the town's representatives emphasising that the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government were not always being observed. One rather curious fact stands out in this connection: the regional administration has obliged the municipal administrations to leave the town hall and change its headquarters twice; and on each occasion the mayor has complied in order to avoid aggravating the situation.

The representatives of Osijek and the surrounding towns were very interested in the idea of technical assistance provided by the Council of Europe on the working of local democracy. The town has also appealed against a number of decisions by the regional President. The outcome of the appeal is not yet known.

As to the conditions in which the town council works, we were told that the new law on local finance has not been in existence long enough for any conclusions to be drawn. The town's administrative staff of 63 is too small for a town of nearly 200,000 inhabitants.

On the subject of minorities, those present said that the situation is satisfactory although a number of practical problems arise over the accommodation of refugees, some of whom belong to the Serb minority. The municipal statute makes provision for the participation of minority groups in municipal affairs.

The Mayor of Nasice, a member of the Social Liberal Party, was more critical in his remarks about the regional President and the financial situation of the locality which, he said, was worse than it had been under the Yugoslav Federation.

Lastly, the Mayor of Osijek told the delegation about the grouping of some 40 Croat towns of which Osijek is a founder member. His hope was that Osijek would prove the ideal place for a Council of Europe Seminar on Local Democracy, since it was here that Croatia's first local democracy embassy was set up.

8. MEETING WITH THE ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE REGION OF SISAK

(7 May 1994, from 10 am to 12 pm in Zagreb)

Passing through Zagreb on their way from Osijek to Rijeka, the delegation had a two-hour meeting with the representatives of the region of Sisak, close to Zagreb, in a zone close to the blue demarcation line.

This encounter had been organised chiefly on account of the CLRAE's plan to set up a local democracy embassy in Sisak at the instigation of Italy. Although no written list was supplied to us, we noticed that the Deputy President of the region, together with the Deputy Mayor of Sisak, the Mayor of Glina, a town occupied by the Serbs, the Mayor of Petrijna and a number of other local and regional authorities were present; so was Mr Rossetto, President of the Association of Municipalities of Venezia, a partner of this region.

The delegation saw how much the region of Sisak had suffered on account of the war, with 17 of its municipalities in Serb-occupied territory. This is one reason why the region is keen to see the local democracy embassy set up rapidly. The tensions between the Zupanya and the municipalities appear not to exist here, probably because the political majorities are not strongly contrasted. The region's major problems are the extraterritorial municipalities whose refugees have nevertheless elected a mayor who is now doing his best for his refugees scattered around the region, and even in Croatia. Contact across the demarcation line is possible only through the United Nations representatives.

In this zone there is also a problem of cohabitation since only 25% of the Serb minority population has remained in the occupied zone, whereas 75% of that population lives in the towns and villages administered by the Croats. In all, the region has 45,000 refugees and is hoping for greater efforts on Europe's part to help it manage this very difficult situation.

9. MEETING WITH THE MAYOR OF RIJEKA AND THE REPRESENTATIVES OF HIS MUNICIPALITY

(7 May 1994, from 5-7.30 pm)

Mr Linic, Mayor of Rijeka, and one of the leaders of the Social Democrat Party, received us in his office together with Mr Horevic, Deputy Mayor responsible for education, and other council members and advisers.

The reason for this meeting was that Rijeka is one of the main towns of Croatia and its mayor is a member of the Social Democrat Party. Also, Rijeka comprises a number of representatives of the Italian and Muslim minorities (about 8% and 3% respectively). The municipal executive is a coalition of 3 Social Democrats, 3 Liberals and 3 representatives of the Croatian Citizens Party. It is a left-wing majority council in a town which appeared to the delegation to enjoy a far higher economic standard than Osijek or Sisak. For example, most of Rijeka's industrial base has come through the war unscathed. There are 250 municipal council employees for a population almost equal to that of Osijek which has only 63.

The mayor spoke first about financial autonomy, stating that Rijeka has a budget of 85 million DM. According to Mr Linic, Rijeka has the economic potential to make good, but the same cannot be said for the small municipalities.

Rijeka is the first town in Croatia to have a municipal statute based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government of the Council of Europe. In so far as the parliament has adhered to the Charter, the provisions of the latter are equal in value to constitutional principles. The town's statute contains provisions which are favourable to minorities. The Italian minority, which is the most sizeable one, has the right to use the Italian language for municipal affairs.

The legal adviser to the mayor spoke to us of difficulties associated with what he saw as divergencies between the law on local democracy and the Constitution. He also raised a number of problems connected with the distribution of state assets to the regions and municipalities. The municipality of Rijeka has lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court concerning the discrepancies between the law and the Constitution. It has also argued that the Croatian law conflicts with certain paragraphs of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. At the regional level in particular, the law confuses local autonomy and state deconcentration. This situation, especially without the new law on local finance, was what prompted the region of Rejika to take over the administration of the town until the end of last year.

A number of activities previously within the municipal ambit - Rijeka has always had a measure of self-government - have been reclaimed by the region. The problems of municipal assets are mainly concerned with educational and sporting facilities.

Mr Linic and the town of Rijeka are involved in the move to create an association of towns, for, as he sees it, towns should have a status distinct from that of the municipalities whose responsibilities are not comparable.

Rijeka will be the venue for the next meeting of the Grouping of Croatian Towns (the 5th) and the mayor has been insisting that co-operation be instituted between the future association and the CLRAE. Mr Linic, one of the Grouping's founders, thinks that the National Association of Towns and Municipalities of the Republic of Croatia, which the delegation met in Zagreb, is not operational despite its existence on paper, and that his Grouping of some 40 towns is much more active in the defence of the towns' interests.

The Mayor of Rijeka is seeking the co-operation of the Council of Europe and the CLRAE with the local authorities of Croatia, so that the new European standards may be introduced into the country's local democracy. He complained that a law recently adopted by the Croatian parliament had severed an area comprising more than 30,000 habitants from the town's territory, which he did not see as serving Rijeka's best interests. Discussing the new association in more detail, he said that several towns belonging to the HDZ Party take part in the meetings of the grouping, since it works for local self-government, which he did not think was true of the official HDZ-controlled association. In order to foster pluralist co-operation, he has decided for the time being not to make the creation of another association official. The mayor has also spoken for rapprochement between Croatia and the Council of Europe and has expressed the wish that experts in local finance be sent to the 6th meeting of the Grouping of Croatian Towns, which is to address that very subject.

Lastly he emphasised the fact that linguistic and cultural facilities have been granted to the Italian minority for the teaching of Italian in primary and secondary schools and the publication of an Italian-language newspaper.

10. MEETING WITH THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE REGION OF ISTRIA AND THE ASSOCIATION OF TOWNS AND MUNICIPALITIES OF ISTRIA AND ISLANDS

(8 May 1994, from 9 am to 12 pm)

The meeting was attended by:

Dr Axel Luttenberger, Mayor of Opatija, President of the Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria and Islands, Vice-Chairman of the Istrian Regional Party;

Mr Lido Sošic, Mayor of Rovinj, Vice-President of the Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria and Islands, member of the Istrian Regional Party;

Mr Robi Zgrablic, Mayor of Pazin, Vice-President of the Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria and Islands, member of the Bureau of the Istrian Regional Party;

Mr Ivan Jakovci_, member of parliament, President of the Istrian Regional Party;

Mr Damir Kajin, President of the Assembly of the Istrian region, Vice-Chairman of the Istrian Regional Party.

The first subject of discussion was the political situation in the region, strongly controlled by the Istrian Regional Party which received over 70% of the vote in the region as well as in most towns and municipalities. This clearly has the effect of giving the elected leaders of the region and the municipalities, most of whom are quite young, the feeling that they have a popular mandate to implement the party's programme.

The delegation stated clearly what the purpose of the visit to Croatia was and why there were more specific reasons for visiting Istria, and explained the new provisions concerning Croatia's special guest status with the Council of Europe. On this point, the representatives of Istria gave their unreserved support to the idea of Croatia's involvement in the work of the Council of Europe.

The delegation also noted that all of the representatives of Istria were members of the Regional Party. Our Istrian hosts explained that their party's programme was to obtain a self-governing status for Istria equivalent to that of an Italian special-status region or an Austrian Land. Their approach was in no sense a separatist movement: they even felt that it would be politically inadvisable in Croatia's present situation for Istria to have a status comparable to that of the Swiss cantons or the German Länder.

Although the medium-term objective is to obtain a degree of self-government of Istria, (for the time being, the region and the Association have decided to work on the basis of the Croat Constitution and the laws at present in force in the country.

The Association of Towns and Municipalities of Istria comprises almost all the municipalities of the region and sees itself as an instrument for the defence of the principles of local self-government, unlike the official association which tends to be masterminded by the establishment. The Istrian Association also feels closer affinities - although it is not a member - with the Grouping of towns created at the initiative of Split, Rijeka and Osijek.

The Regional Party is campaigning for regionalisation on the basis of Croatia's five traditional regions. It was also at the initiative of the Istrian Regional Party that the Croat parliament decided to subscribe to the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The group of parliamentarians of the Regional Party also intends to propose that Croatia accede to the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages and to the Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation.

However, the main problem for Istria at present is the quarrel with the central government over the region's self-attributed statute. During the meeting, the delegation was given a copy of the statute in Italian and an English-language copy of the government's decision to declare the statute contrary to the Constitution and unlawful. In answer to questions put by its Istrian hosts, we said that it would be difficult at this stage to pronounce on the merits of this conflict internal to Croatia, especially as we had no means of knowing precisely the terms of the Constitution and of the different laws cited by the Croatian Government.

During the discussion, however, it became clear that the government's main complaints concerned bilingualism in the region, the institution of a regional referendum on regional responsibilities associated with the concept of Istrian regional identity, and its economic policy. The Istrian representatives argue that their statute is based on the provisions of the Constitution and on the European Charter of Local Self-Government - approved by the Parliament - and on the provisions of the Osimo Agreement between the Italian Republic and the Yugoslav Federation, an agreement accepted by the new Republic of Croatia.

On the basis of these arguments, a constitutional appeal has been lodged by the region of Istria against the decision of the central government. This decision seeks not only to suspend the statute adopted by the region but also to create a government-appointed Presidential Council of Istria. The representatives of Istria state that these decisions were taken by the central authorities without any consultation, and that even the persons appointed to the Council were not consulted on their appointment. In their opinion, the Presidential Council cannot function since most of the members appointed to it have refused to take their seats.

It is clear that this question of Istria's self- attributed statute is a particularly delicate one. It is legitimate to wonder how far experts at the Council of Europe could help to establish constructive dialogue between the two parties in order to enable the regional authorities to formulate the statute's provisions in a way which respects the Constitution and laws of Croatia. The most sensitive problem is that of the inclusion in this statute of provisions taken from the Osimo Agreement. If all the parties are in agreement, one could envisage legal assistance from Concil of Europe in the spirit of the Vienna Summit declaration.

Another matter discussed with the representatives of Istria was the authorities' wish to see a local democracy embassy established in the region under the aegis of the CLRAE. Preliminary contacts have already been made with the representatives of the municipalities of the canton of Tessino. It remains to be seen whether other partners can be found to support this scheme.

On another subject discussed during the meeting, namely transfrontier co-operation, the delegation expressed the hope that the region of Istria would take an active part in the Conference of European Transfrontier Regions due to be held in Ljubljana in mid-October. Similarly, the Istrian delegation would like to have speaking time at the Merano Conference on Minorities and Self-Governing Status, assuming that a date is soon agreed.

 

1 One instance of a regional President not being confirmed was reported to us, but none in the case of regions held by the opposition.



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