Croatia slightly outperforms neighbours but problems found across the region.
Berlin, 25 June 2013 – Croatia should make political party financing more
transparent to strengthen its democracy as it prepares to join the European Union (EU), according to a report released today by Transparency International. The report also called on Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia (FYR) and Serbia to make progress in this critical area.
The report ‘Buying Influence: Money and Elections in the Balkans’ warns that a lack of public trust in political parties is threatening the democratic process across the Balkans. Citizens in Croatia, Macedonia (FYR) and Serbia already view political parties as the most corrupt of twelve public institutions assessed, according to the anti-corruption organisation’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2013, set to be published this summer.
“A strong democracy and fair elections depend on open books on political financing. Without clean politics there can be no clean government. Croatia slightly outperforms its neighbours on campaign transparency, but it and its neighbours still have a long way to go,” said Miklos Marschall, Deputy Managing Director of Transparency International. “Our research in the past has shown that joining the EU must not be an excuse for governments to slow down their anti-corruption efforts – in fact, this is when the work should really start, especially in political party financing,” said Marschall.
Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union on 1 July 2013. A 2012 Transparency International report warned that financing of political parties is a problem across the EU.
Today’s report assessed transparency in election campaign financing in 2011- 2012 in Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia (FYR) and Serbia, and non-electoral political party financing in Albania in 2012. It found significant gaps in both election campaign financing laws and the way they are implemented. The three weakest dimensions were the reliability of parties’ financial reporting, sanctions for those who break the law, and measures that prevent the abuse of election campaign financing.
In Kosovo, Macedonia (FYR) and Serbia the reliability of political parties’ financial reporting was the weakest of all the areas assessed and in Croatia it was the second weakest. According to the report, independent experts in Croatia estimate that official reports on campaign financing only cover up to 50 to 60 per cent of the actual revenue in campaign budgets and in Serbia, the ultimate source of funding for almost half of reported expenditure during the May 2012 election is unknown.
By law all of the state oversight agencies assessed have relatively far reaching powers, but in practice these agencies cannot hold political parties to account effectively because of a lack of resources (Croatia, Serbia) or a lack of independence from parties (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia (FYR)). These issues must be addressed so that agencies can compel parties to submit reliable and timely financial reports as well as scrutinize financial reports and sanction parties who do not comply with the law.
Sanctions for flouting laws are also weak across the board. No political party in Serbia or Macedonia (FYR) has ever been sanctioned for violating rules on political campaign financing.
Additional recommendations in the report include:
- To ensure the independence of state oversight agencies, members should be
drawn from across the political spectrum and their appointment should be
approved by all the major political parties contesting an election
- Croatia and Macedonia (FYR) require financial reporting of income and
expenditure during the electoral period (as opposed to after) allowing citizens
to cast an informed vote. This should be a legal requirement for all countries
- In Macedonia (FYR) it is a legal requirement that the media publish a unified price list for political advertising at the outset of an election campaign. To strengthen rules on equal access to the media, this practice should be adopted by other countries.
“A lack of reliable and accurate financial reporting from political parties leaves the door open to corruption and abuse of the democratic system by wealthy donors including big business,” said Anne Koch, Transparency International’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. “Without transparency on donations, it is impossible for citizens to know in whose interest political parties are acting. Democratic life in the Balkans will not thrive unless these problems are addressed and voters can have confidence in their representatives,” said Koch.