By Natasa Radic
Croatia Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said the overwhelming approval of the referendum to join the EU is a turning point for the country, despite a turnout of only 44% of eligible voters on Sunday (January 22nd).
“From now on, we will be the ones responsible for all decisions we are going to make,” Milanovic said, as parliamentary deputies, government ministers and state dignitaries met at the parliament to celebrate on Sunday evening.
President Ivo Josipovic added that it was a big day for Croatia, saying he is truly happy with the outcome of the referendum. Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic called it “a historical moment.”
The vote was 66% for EU accession and 33% against. Croatia will become the EU’s 28th member in July 2013, after the treaty is ratified with other Union members.
“The upcoming accession of Croatia sends a clear signal to the whole region of Southeastern Europe. It shows that through political courage and determined reforms, EU membership is within reach,” the EU said in a statement.
Still, turnout was the lowest of any country’s EU accession referendum in the past decade as some who opposed EU membership stayed home rather than cast a vote. But war veteran Slaven said that he decided to vote and say no.
“I did not fight for this country to have it one day served on a silver plate to Brussels. So this is why I wanted my vote to count, too. I said no,” he told SETimes.
About 44% of voters took part in referendum in Croatia and abroad. [Petar Kos/SETimes]
Only 3% of the diaspora voted, lowering the final figure as the turnout number. In Croatia was actually higher, about 47%.
“I always felt we were part of Europe and I voted ‘Yes’ because this is exactly where we belong,” Smiljana Gadza told SETimes Sunday.
Professor Nenad Zakosek, dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, acknowledges the problematic low turnout.
Some analysts have tried to explain the turnout with the financial crisis or people being tired of voting — just having had parliamentary elections in December — but Zakosek disagrees.
“I think that the main reason why so many people stayed at home has to do with the way the EU referendum campaign was organised. When we think about the number of people who did not vote, then we can agree that those who do not support the EU were rather successful,” Zakosek told SETimes.
Marija Gabela said she is afraid that prices would rise after the accession. “I don’t want my life to get more expensive than it is today, and I think the EU will make our life more difficult. Still, I was not keen to vote no either, so I stayed at home.”
The international community welcomed the referendum’s outcome.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was pleased with the result. “I think it will be a great delight to have the Croatian foreign minister with us at the foreign affairs council,” Ashton told reporters.