Will more Europe mean more jobs for Croatia?

As Croatia joins the European Union on 1 July, the question on every citizen’s lips is “how will this make our lives better?” Although at first glance Croatia appears to be the stand-out success story amongst the former Yugoslav republics, it still has a number of serious socio-economic problems.

Since 2009, Croatia has experienced a prolonged recession. According to Eurostat, 67.8 per cent of Croatia’s 4.4 million strong population are of working age but unemployment stands at 20.6 per cent. For youth unemployment that figure rises to more than 50 per cent.

By joining the EU, Croatia is expected to have access to approximately €11.7 billion in EU structural and cohesion funds, which, in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Croatian President Ivo Josipović plainly states: “It is likely that EU funds will exceed foreign direct investments in the coming years, making them an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

However, on the ground the muted pessimism over joining the EU is palpable.

Although Croatia’s entry to the EU has been a hard-fought, decade-long process, only 39 per cent of Croatians welcome accession, according to a poll cited by Spiegel Online, fearful that increased competition and new restrictions from Brussels policymakers will destroy local businesses and industries.

At the beginning of June, the recently privatised Brodosplit – Croatia’s biggest shipyard in the port city of Split – sacked over 3,000 workers. The privatisation of Croatia’s shipbuilding industry was one of the conditions for Croatia’s accession.

Brodosplit’s new owners have promised to re-hire at least 2,000 workers this year, but there are still fears that this is just one example of the painful medicine that may be prescribed by Brussels.

“EU membership presents certain opportunities but also certain threats for Croatian society as a whole as well as for workers and trade unions,” says Dijana Sobota, International Officer for the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC).

“Whether the final result will be positive or negative, that depends solely on us – on how we will use the possibilities and what we will do to minimize the dangers that membership offers.”


Initially when Croatia applied to join the EU back in 2003, the European economy was in rude health and Croatians felt proud that in less than ten years they had managed to go from the end of a bloody war for independence in 1995 to joining Europe’s most exclusive club.

But since the onset of the economic crisis, few people believe that joining the EU and eventually the eurozone will signficantly improve the country’s economy prospects.

On 1 May, 250,000 people took part in protests organised by the UATUC to demand urgent changes to social and economic policies. They called for a new economic policy based on an end to austerity measures, reindustrialisation, job creation and the preservation of the welfare state.

There have been positive developments. The Croatian government recently increased the minimum wage by 170 Croatian kuna (approximately 30 US dollars) per month to 2,984.78 HRK gross (approximately 523 US dollars). However, while the minimum wage has increased by 6.2 per cent, inflation has gone up by nearly 10 percent so workers are still losing out.

Low wages and scant employment opportunities have driven many Croatians abroad in search for work. It is feared that with EU membership, this trend will only increase.

The success, or failure, of Croatia’s accession to the EU also has much wider implications. Former Yugoslav republics turned EU candidate countries like Montenegro and Serbia, as well as potential candidates and Croatia’s Balkan neighbours of Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, will also be looking closely at the Croatian experiment to see if it is one worth replicating.