Croatians say Yes to EU accession
Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union on Sunday (22 January) in a popular referendum that will see it become the 28th member state.
An estimated 42 percent of people voted making it among the lowest recorded turnouts in comparable EU accession referendums.
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Of those who did show up to the polls, around 68 percent voted for the accession despite concerns over economic turmoil in Europe and ambivalence over a possible loss of sovereignty. Accession still needs to be ratified by the Croatian parliament and by all EU-27 parliaments before the country officially joins next year.
Centre-left Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic downplayed the poor turnout. “It would have been better that the turnout was larger, but that’s reality,” he said describing the referendum results as a turning point in the country’s history.
Anti-EU sentiment in the country flared up in April last year when two Croatian commanders - Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac - received lengthy jail terms by judges in The Hague. However, the BBC reports that Gotovina recently told his supporters to back Croatia’s bid to join the Union.
It is Croatia’s first referendum since 1991 when it proclaimed its independence from the former Yugoslavia. At the time, the decision to break away from its former masters later resulted in a four and a half year war that cost the lives of some 20,000 people.
Today the country is suffering from a 17 percent unemployment rate and an economy embattled by the same crisis affecting the rest of Europe. A recession has struck it hard with around €48 billion in foreign debt and a gross domestic product per capita that is 61 percent of the EU average. However, its GDP per capita last year was still higher than EU member states Bulgaria and Romania, according to the International Monetary Fund.
For their part, EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso released a joint statement saying EU membership will “help secure the stability and prosperity" of the nation. They described the result as good news for the whole of the Balkan regions.
“The upcoming accession of Croatia sends a clear signal to the whole region of south eastern Europe. It shows that through political courage and determined reforms, EU membership is within reach. Today’s positive vote is therefore good news for Croatia, good news for the region, and good news for Europe,” said the statement.
Croatia is the second former Yugoslav nation, after Slovenia, to join the Union. The EU’s border will now extend to Bosnia and Montenegro.
Opponents of accession fear Brussels will now rule the country and that the EU has changed because of the trouble surrounding the euro. EU supporters believe membership will prove more beneficial in the long term.
“Croatia will not lose its sovereignty or natural resources, nor will it be ruled by the EU,” President Ivo Josipovic said in a written statement.