Human Freedom Index: Croatia Improves but Judiciary Still Disappoints

Lauren Simmonds

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With the rise of populism and hybrid forms of authoritarianism, blows to various forms of human rights and freedoms are sadly on the rise worldwide. What does the Human Freedom Index 2019 have to say about Croatia’s improvements and failings?

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 10th of January, 2020, rather unsurprisingly, countries such as Angola, Venezuela and Tajikistan are among the countries with the largest decline in freedom levels last year, writes Tanja Porcnik, a senior fellow at the Canadian Fraser Institute and co-author of the Human Freedom Index.

The good news is that freedom is progressing and expanding in many societies. Among them is Croatia, which ranks among 25 percent of the world’s freest countries. Recently, the fifth annual The Human Freedom Index was published. It is the most comprehensive measurement of freedom ever made for a large number of countries around the world.

Within the index, author contributor Ian Vásquez and Tanja Porcnik cover 162 countries and take into account 76 indicators of personal and economic freedom, using data from 2008 to 2017, the last year for which comparable data is available. Because of their fundamental value and their contribution to human well-being, liberties deserve the strongest defense. The report was published in collaboration with the Canadian Fraser Institute, the Cato Institute of the United States, and the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

In the recently released Human Freedom Index, New Zealand and Switzerland are still the freest countries in the world, while Venezuela and Syria come last place. The ranking of the other selected countries is as follows: Germany (8th), Sweden (11th), United Kingdom (14th), United States (15th), Japan (25th), Chile (28th), France (33rd), Poland (40th), Argentina (77th), Kenya (79th), Mexico (92nd), India (94th), Brazil (109th), Russia (114th), Turkey (122nd), Saudi Arabia (149) and Iran (154).

Where are the countries of the former Yugoslavia and how are they adding up? The freest country of them all is Croatia’s neighbour to the north, Slovenia (35), followed by Croatia (37), Montenegro (53), Bosnia and Herzegovina (55), Serbia (58) and the least free is considered to be North Macedonia (65).

The level of human freedom in the world average also decreased in 2017, continuing the downward trend from 2008 to 2016. At the country level, human freedom has been decreasing in most countries since last year, in as many as 88 of them, while it is increasing in 70 countries. Croatia marks the 20th largest increase in its freedom in the world, from 7.72 (43rd place) in 2016 to 7.86 (37th place) in 2017. Prior to this significant jump in the Index, Croatia was constantly in the second quarter of the countries covered. In the latest published report, as stated, Croatia is ranked first among 25 percent of the world’s freest countries.

While Croatia has increased both personal and economic freedoms in the last ten years, its economic freedoms have gone from 73 to 56. Thus, Croatia has reached the levels of Poland and Hungary in the Human Freedom Index and is now far closer to the likes of Slovenia and Slovakia.

What progress has Croatia therefore seen in terms of increasing economic freedom during the first year of Prime Minister Andrei Plenkovic’s reign according to the latest Human Freedom Index? It is certain that steps were naturally carried over from 2016 when Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic led the Croatian Government.

Firstly, with regard to the regulations, Croatia, for example, lowered the restrictions on the sale of real estate relating to the number of days and costs required to register and transfer ownership; reduced the financial cost of obtaining a building permit; maintained its commitment to one-stop shop registration of businesses, not only to save time and money but also to increase transparency and accessibility of the procedure itself; it lowered the risks associated with the administrative costs of business for the regulatory environment, including reducing inefficiencies related to regulatory compliance and red tape.

Second, in relation to the size of the country, Croatia reduced the volume of government borrowing in relation to private sector debt, lowered the share of public investment in total investments in the country and lowered the level of ownership and control of capital in the industrial, agricultural and service sectors.

Third, in the context of monetary parameters, in light of the stable monetary policy of the Croatian National Bank (CNB/HNB) and the pressure on the devaluation of the kuna to boost exports, Croatia also lowered its average annual money supply growth and standard deviation in inflation.

However, not everything went in the right direction for Croatia in 2017, as evidence by the Human Freedom Index.

The state of the rule of law in the country has deteriorated even more than before, giving Croatia worryingly low results in the area of ​​judicial independence, the impartiality of courts, the protection of property rights and trust in the police in general. The inability to strengthen the rule of law is in fact the problem of all former socialist economies in the Balkans.

Finally, the evidence shows the importance of freedom for development. Indeed, the Human Liberty Index report shows a strong correlation between the level of freedom and income. The world’s freest countries, which are in the first quarter of the countries covered, enjoy higher per capita income (40,171 US dollars) compared to countries in the last quarter (15,721 US dollars).

Moreover, when we consider economic freedom, it is known that there needs to be a positive relationship not only with national income but also with economic growth, living standards, economic equality, poverty reduction and a number of desirable social and economic outcomes. With this in mind, apart from increasing freedom, people living in Croatia can expect to experience other long-term positive trends that will allow them to seek their own opportunities and make their own choices.

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