What do Croatia’s election results mean for its neglected science?

Croatia’s citizens have had their say. Again. In the second elections in the past year – following the collapse of an inefficient coalition plagued by corruption allegations – they have once again elected no single majority.

Which means another coalition government, once again led by the right-wing HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), the party that won the most seats.

But what does it mean for science, which has seen declining or stagnating funding and lots of brain drain?

Well, the HDZ electoral manifesto has a whole section on science, innovation and education.

Empty promises?

It promises to boost the number of PhDs and increase funding for science to 2% of GDP – way below what it should be aiming for as an EU member state, but still much more than it currently puts in (around 0.85% of GDP).

It says it will use the 75 million Euros available from the European Social Fund to boost the number of PhDs and another 75 million to help postdocs and experienced researchers.

The HDZ also promises to invest in research equipment and infrastructure, and to reward projects that get a positive evaluation at applications for EU-level research funds, but don’t end up getting a grant – a longstanding and still unfulfilled promise.

Much of this will probably not happen. That’s judging by what the last HDZ-led coalition government did over the past year or so.

Recent failures

They appointed a highly inexperienced science minister, a controversial philosopher who got criticised for promoting creationism in his academic work and who cancelled a long-awaited and widely supported reform of schooling, apparently largely for ideological reasons.

Then, a couple of months ago his deputy minister got sued for blocking access to an existing 50 million Euros of EU money. Croatia’s centres of excellence claimed he wanted to give much of that money, meant for the best performing centres, to fund other institutions. That would leave the excellence centres without enough money to run.

This was just the latest in a long history of neglect of science by Croatia’s political elites, who care more about ideological differences and holding on to lucrative power than about true economic and societal progress.

The left-wing government of 2011-2015 formed by the SDP (Social Democratic Party) did little to improve science, especially after the reshuffle in 2014 that saw a change of ministers and delay in promised reforms.

One ray of hope is that there are several smaller, recent parties who are getting more and more votes. The newest, called Pametno (Smart), is run largely by academics and researchers, though it didn’t quite make the cut in the current elections.

Mićo Tatalović

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