23/03/2003 - Results
On Sunday 23rd March Slovenians accepted by an overwhelming majority their country's membership to the EU with 89.66% of them answering "yes" to the question that was put to them. Only 10.34% said they were against Slovenia joining the Fifteen. Slovenians also approved the country's integration to NATO, to a lesser degree but by a wide majority nevertheless, versus 33.92% who said they were against. Thousands of Slovenians gathered at the Presernov Trg, the biggest park in Ljubljana to celebrate the event even before the results had been officially announced.
Although membership to the EU was almost an established fact the referendum result on Slovenia's integration into the Atlantic Alliance had been eagerly awaited for since the population was very much divided on the subject. In February when NATO was experiencing a difficult time in preparation for the military intervention in Iraq, Slovenian support for the Alliance had fallen to 37%. Although the latest opinion polls revealed a rise in a positive intention to vote for integration (57% "yes" according to a opinion poll in the daily newspaper Delo, 18th March), the most recent survey after the start of the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, that was extremely unpopular amongst the population, (82% of Slovenians said they were against it whilst only 6% found it a justified act) showed that Slovenian support for NATO membership had dropped by six points to lie at 51%. The recent assassination of Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic revealed however the insecurity that reigns over the region and certainly contributed to strengthening support for the Alliance. "From tomorrow onwards Slovenia will be a partner worthy of confidence", stressed Defence Minister Anton Grizold.
On Wednesday 26th March in Brussels NATO will sign membership protocol with the seven countries of Central and Eastern Europe, who have been invited to join the Alliance in 2004. Apart from Slovenia there will be Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. By integrating NATO Slovenia will have to provide the Alliance with a peace maintenance brigade that will be incorporated into the Italo-Hungarian unity based in Udina (Italy).
With a nearly 90% "yes" vote Slovenians really have approved the European Union. The result is higher by nearly 15 points than had been forecast by the opinion polls who had mentioned 65% of votes in favour. "History did not stop on Sunday evening, but a period that started when we declared our independence did come to an end" confirmed President Janez Drnovsek when the results were announced. For his part Prime Minister Anton Rop said that he was "very satisfied" with the referenda. "The Slovenian decision to join NATO and the EU opens up a new chapter in our history and means that the country will enjoy greater security, faster economic development and more stability" he added. Finally the president of the European Parliament Pat Cox who was in Ljubljana for the election stressed that, "Slovenia has opened up a way towards joining the great democratic family of the European Union".
This major victory by the "yes" vote is a strong message to the other seven countries who still have to ratify their membership by referendum. In Europe the Slovenian vote was welcomed with satisfaction. "The Slovenian vote clearly in favour of the EU and NATO is a major message, precisely because of the world's present political situation" declared the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. In the eyes of the French European Affairs Minister Noëlle Lenoir, "the real acceptance by the Slovenian electorate shows that people do indeed want to change era and enter into the 21st Century, and that they want to enter into Greater Europe".
Slovenia will therefore be the first republic of former Yugoslavia to become a member of the EU on 1st May 2004. "Of course Slovenia will be just a small piece in the great European mosaic", declared European Affairs Minister, Janez Potocnik, "but for us it means security, stability and prosperity. And we shall finally be able to show to our Balkan neighbours that there is light at the end of the tunnel".
23rd March referenda results:
Participation : 55.37%
Source: Agence France Presse
Participation : 55.51%
Source: Agence France Presse