As part of his pre-election campaign, a Croatian candidate in European elections Mr Karlo Ressler of the currently ruling party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), claimed that the youth unemployment halved since the EU accession [since HDZ is in power] and optimistically stated that since then 96,000 new jobs have opened. Both statements are true, however, putting this in the context of a successful government is false and therefore shows how stats can be misused in the campaign for European elections.
While campaigning in Croatia, a candidate for the European Parliament Mr Karlo Ressler said: ”Since Croatia became a member of the EU, youth unemployment decreased by more than half, while more than 96,000 jobs have opened in last three years “. He said this in the context of the benefits of EU membership and the successes of the government in which Ressler’s party HDZ has the majority.
First, it is true that the youth unemployment rate decreased by more than 50 percent, however this is not a consequence of successful policies of the government currently in power (or any other). According to Eurostat, in year 2013 only Greece and Spain had worse youth unemployment rates than Croatia. But today Croatia is still one of five EU countries with highest youth unemployment rates. While in year 2013 Croatia was ranked third, in year 2018 it is fourth, with Greece, Spain and Italy holding the top three places of youth unemployment in the European Union. On the other hand, it is true that the youth unemployment rate went down 54 percent in comparison with the rate in year 2013. How can the rate go down more than fifty percent, yet Croatia went down only one place? According to Dr Kristijan Kotarski, who teaches the Theory of Economic Policy at the University of Zagreb, this is the result of the recovery of the Eurozone economy after the ECB has started to implement quantitative easing policy by 2015.
Furthermore, this opens an even bigger issue, or probably currently the biggest issue in Croatia. Dr Kristijan Kotarski said in an interview: “The drop of youth unemployment rates in the age group of 15-29 is primarily a result of mass emigration after EU membership.” Mass emigration from Croatia has been an issue of concern in the country, but also a matter of debate. When Croatia became an EU member state in year 2013, it gained all the benefits of the so-called four freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor. This encouraged Croats to search for a brighter future beyond the borders of their homeland.
Here we get to the main reasons why the matter of emigration is the focus of debate in Croatia. On the one hand, a first look at the above mentioned Eurostat figures shows that in year 2018, there were 65,000 less young people unemployed than in year 2013. However, at the same time the number of youth employment increased by 44,000 people. So where did the other 21,000 young people go? The National Institute for Statistics recorded 24,250 young people emigrating from Croatia between years 2013 and 2017. On the other hand, other reports and estimations state that the number of Croatians, predominantly youth, that left the country is significantly higher. According to this report by the European Social Policy Network, “although figures from foreign statistical offices may slightly overstate the figures (including Croatian passport holders who were not living in Croatia, for example), it is clear that true levels of emigration from Croatia are higher than official statistics suggest, perhaps double or even triple.” This research study gives an even more troubling estimation: “Our indirect emigration estimates show that emigration from Croatia to the core EU countries following the accession is on average around 2.6 times higher than the officially registered numbers in Croatia, with around 230 thousands people having left Croatia and settled in one of the analyzed core EU countries in the 2013-2016 period.”
Both studies point out that official stats are based on voluntary reports to the authorities. Paul Stubbs and Siniša Zrinščak from the mentioned ESPN Flash Report emphasize: “Without a population census, tighter enforcement of a 2012 Law which requires anyone leaving Croatia for a year or more to cancel their residence permit, or representative survey data, any figures used are no more than an informed guess.”
The Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list conducted a journalistic study of national statistics on immigration in Austria, Ireland and Germany, which are the “top destinations” for Croatian emigrants, and found that at least 250,000 Croatian citizens moved to these countries in the last five years. Only in year 2018, the German records show that 56,000 Croatian citizens applied for residency in Germany. We checked the data and the stats quoted by the journalist in this article and they are correct.
Here we come back to the part of Mr Karlo Ressler’s statement in which he said that 96,000 new job placements opened in Croatia. According to the Croatian Pension Insurance Institute, between year 2016 and today the number of people paying pension insurance increased by 96,000 new users. However, at the same time period 338,150 jobs were closed. Therefore, the number Ressler gave is correct, but when placed into context, it is not at all encouraging for any Croatian. If the current Croatian government is indeed responsible for 96,000 new job placements, it is also for those jobs that closed.
Ultimately, even though Mr Karlo Ressler used two true stats – that there are 96,000 new jobs and that the youth unemployment rates in Croatia are down 50 percent – there are two issues. First, the fall in youth unemployment rates are hardly a merit of the government currently in power, but of a recovery of the economic crisis at the level of the EU as a whole. Croatia is still in the top five EU countries with highest youth unemployment rates anyway. Also, the estimations of how many Croatians emigrated in the last six years could also be part of the explanation for lower unemployment rates. Second, the number of jobs that opened do not look so optimistic when put into context, concretely in comparison with the number of jobs that closed.
Finally, this statement is a good example of how numbers can be used by candidates in any election, the government itself or anyone to claim something without providing the whole context. A good PR spin conceals a worrisome present and an uncertain future, therefore we assess that this statement by Mr Karlo Ressler is mostly false.
ARTICLE ©: Ivana Turković and Lucija Vulić