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The European Elections Monitor
Hungary - Referendum on UE membership

The hungarians approved their country's membership to the European Union by a wide majority

The hungarians approved their country's membership to the European Union by a wide majority

12/04/2003 - Results

The Hungarians accepted their country's membership to the European Union by a very wide majority in a referendum that took place on Saturday 12th April. 83.76% of the voters - a result that was 20 points higher than that shown in the last opinion polls, where those in favour of integration were forecast with 64% of the vote - answering "yes" to the question that was "historic" according to Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy (Socialist Party MSZP). 16.24% of the voters said they were against Hungary joining the EU. Celebrations had been organised in the country's main towns including a fireworks display in Budapest the capital to the music "Ode to Joy, prelude to the 4th movement in the 9th Symphony by Beethoven and the EU's national anthem. As soon as the election's results were announced many Hungarians went out onto the streets or to the banks of the Danube to celebrate the event.

The only shadow to be cast over this referendum however: the participation rate that was clearly lower than the opinion polls had indicated last week when they forecast it at around 65%. Although the Hungarians voted mostly in favour of membership few of them did so: more than half of the electorate abstained (54.4%). The Hungarians ignored the call from their Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy who, throughout the electoral campaign, had invited them to participate en masse in the referendum. "It is not enough just to say "yes" in principle to membership, it must be said clearly," the socialist leader had repeated. In vain. The low participation rate led people to believe, for a few hours at least, that the election might be invalidated. Indeed the Hungarian Constitution decrees that half of all the votes considered valid, ie one quarter of the country's electoral body (around 2 million votes), must be "yes" or "no" votes in order for the referendum to be validated. In 1997 in a previous referendum on Hungary joining NATO the participation rate was also very low 49% even though the "yes" also won through with 85% of the votes cast.

It has to be admitted that the Hungarians were called to vote in a referendum on the European future of their country on a Saturday, a first in a country where elections are normally undertaken on Sundays, but some 11,000 polling stations remained open two hours longer than the normal voting times (from 6am to 9pm) in order to enable the Jewish community to vote at the end of their Sabbath. The Opposition took advantage of the low turn out rate to criticise government action. "The amateurism of the costly communication campaign undertaken by the socialists resulted in one of the lowest participation rates in the last thirty years in the referenda on membership organised by European countries," declared Joszef Szajer, vice president of Young Democrats Alliance (FIDESZ), the main Conservative opposition party.

"Europe, here we are", "We have come home, to Europe" were the titles of the country's daily newspapers on Sunday morning. As soon as it held democratic elections in 1990 Hungary had requested to join the EU. The country, that is one that is most in favour of Brussels amongst the candidate countries, will become an official member of the Union on 1st May 2004. "The Hungarian "yes" on their country's membership to the EU is encouraging for the Slovak voters," declared Jan Figel, Slovakia's main negotiator with the EU. "This result is good not only for Hungary but also for the partners in the Visegrad group," he added. This opinion is shared by Günter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enlargement who confirmed "the Hungarian referendum result will have a knock on effect that will guarantee a similar result in the countries who are to vote after Hungary." This effect is hoped for in some candidate countries (particularly in Estonia and Latvia) who are afraid of their population's euroscepticism and who have chosen to consult with their citizens later on in the year, counting on the influence of the positive vote by the countries who are more in favour of the European Union. Next month Lithuanians will be called to vote on their country's membership to the EU on 10th and 11th May, followed by the Slovaks a few days later on 16th and 17th May.

Referendum results - 12th April 2003:

Participation : 45.6%

Source Agence France Presse
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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