10/05/2003 - Results
It was an overwhelming majority, 91.04%, of Lithuanians who approved their country's membership of the European Union on 10th and 11th May. Only 8.9% of the population said they were against the Baltic Republic's European integration. Although victory was expected the size of the "yes" vote was a surprise, since the last opinion polls estimated the proportion of the population in favour of membership was less than 70%. With this massive "yes" in terms of enthusiasm, Lithuania became the most Europhile of the four States that have already voted in the membership referendum, ahead of Slovenia, Hungary and Malta. Although the victory of the "yes" vote was almost certain, it was necessary for more than half of those on the electoral role to turn out to vote in order for the referendum to be declared valid. The strong campaign to mobilise the electorate produced good results since 63.3% of Lithuanians fulfilled their duty as citizens over the two days (of which 135,000, who could not be present on 10th and 11th May voted by post between 29th April and 7th May), i.e. a level that was much higher than the opinion polls had forecast and even higher than the figure politicians had been dreaming of.
It must be said that those in favour of Lithuania's membership of the EU spared no energy in their effort to convince the electorate of the importance of what was at stake. The official campaign ended on the evening of 8th May with a big concert offered by the stars of Lithuanian music world in the capital of Vilnius bringing together the President and two former Presidents of the Republic, Rolandas Paksas, Valdas Adamkus et Vytautas Landsbergis as well as members of the Catholic hierarchy and an audience of 50,000. The country's best basket ball team arrived in the middle of the party by helicopter and the most popular player, Arvydas Sabonis, gave a speech in favour of the European Union. On Friday 9th May, Europe Day, dozens of young Lithuanians poured into the streets to celebrate their country's future European integration reminding the population of the importance of the referendum. In the countryside, on the days the vote took place, local authorities provided the electorate with special buses to take them to accomplish their citizen's duty; some mayors even promised new computers to the communities that had the highest participation levels. VP Market, the biggest supermarket chain in the country, offered every citizen who showed the sticker they had been given after they had voted either a bottle of beer, a packet of soap powder or a box of chocolate for the very modest sum of one cent. For its part the Catholic Church, by far the majority in Lithuania made a wide appeal during services to vote.
On Saturday evening after the first day of voting the participation rate was low, at only 23.10% of the electorate. President Rolandas Paksas went on TV to make a solemn appeal to his countrymen to vote "yes" to the country's membership of the European Union. "I am asking you with all my heart. Do not be indifferent, think of the future, come and vote for yourselves and for the future of Lithuania", he declared adding, "Encourage your neighbours, your family and your friends to do it and go and vote together. We have signed the European membership treaty but the decisive 'yes' depends on you." Prior to this Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas launched a similar appeal declaring, "I do not think that the good weather will ruin the referendum. It would be God's punishment".
"Hi Europeans!"cried Rolandas Paksas as he came out of his office after the announcement of the results, breaking into song with the Lithuanian national anthem. The President of the Republic, who cut into a giant cake decorated with the Lithuanian and European flags, along with the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament Arturas Paulauskas, congratulated the Lithuanians for "having past this test of maturity. Lithuania is now starting a new stage in its history", he stressed. For his part Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas declared "I am very proud that Lithuanians understood what was at stake during this referendum and that they took this historic step". Fireworks then lit the Lithuanian sky and the party went on until late into the night, bringing together a good number of Lithuanians and representatives of all political movements (Lithuania is the only candidate country where no political parties were opposed to membership of the European Union) and cultural life at a giant concert organised near the Presidential palace.
On 12th May just as the biggest national daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas bore the title "Lithuania starts the day in the European Union", a highly symbolic ceremony took place in Parliament with all the country's leaders in attendance. The European flag was raised over the Chamber of Representatives. "During the Communist era no one could have foreseen that the European flag would fly in the place of that of the USSR", commented Rolandas Paksas, "at that time it seemed unimaginable. Today I am very happy". The former President of the Republic Valdas Adamkus insisted on reminding Lithuanians that the country was still at the start of the route. "We must now roll up our sleeves and work towards being well prepared for membership", he emphasised.
President Rolandas Paksas, who on 8th May compared the importance of the referendum "the most serious moments", of Lithuanian history, like for example the declaration of sovereignty won back in 1990, suggested turning 11th May into a Bank Holiday.
Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament declared the Lithuanian election result as "encouraging", hoping that "it would serve as an example to the other candidate countries". The next referendum will take place on 16th and 17th May in Slovakia. The Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas hoped for "a good result" for the five States who still have to vote on their membership of the European Union before the end of September.
Referendum on the European Union on 10th and 11th May 2003:
Participation : 63.3%
Source : Agence France Presse