Slovaks plebiscite their country's membership of the European Union

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Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy

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17 May 2003
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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

With 92.46% in favour of the 'yes', Slovaks have established a record in terms of Euro-enthusiasm amongst the five countries who have already voted by referendum on their membership of the European Union. Only 6.2% of the Slovak electorate, representing 135,031 citizens voted against their country's integration into Europe. On the announcement of the results many people went out into the streets of the capital Bratislava to celebrate the event and the fact that it was the first referendum to be declared valid since the country's independence in 1993 (the four previous ones - on NATO, privatisation, the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage and the early general elections - failed to rally more than 50% of those registered).

Even though there was hardly any doubt about the positive outcome of the referendum, concern surrounded the participation level (more than half of the electorate had to go and vote for the electoral consultation to be valid). It was also necessary to wait more than four hours after the closing of the 5,100 polling stations across the country before the Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda could put an end to the suspense and publicly announce the referendum's validity, since the participation rate totalled 52.15% of those registered. The abstention rate lay beyond the estimations established in the last opinion polls who had forecast that it would reach 35%. The Slovak vote at 92.46% is much higher than all of the surveys who had reckoned on 80% of the votes in favour of joining the EU. The highest participation rate was recorded in the area of Bratislava, the richest in the country. The electorate in the most deprived regions in the Eastern part of the country demonstrated the highest abstention rate. Political analysts say this was a sign of disappointment and reprobation towards the government's policy, led by Mikulas Dzurinda (Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, SDKU). Analysts also questioned the weakness of the late electoral campaign that is blamed for having failed to motivate the most reticent voters to go and vote, particularly the young. In addition to this many voters seemed to have the impression that membership of the EU was already a fact and did not bother to vote.

During the last few days of the campaign the government was innovative and sent out SMS messages to the three million clients of the two mobile phone operators, Orange and EuroTel, calling on them to go and vote and say "yes" to membership of the European Union. On 13th May the President of the Republic Rudolf Schuster and the leaders of the seven political parties represented on the National Council of the Slovak Republic (the only Chamber in Parliament) launched an appeal to the electorate: "At this time, that is so important for Slovakia's future, as well as for the unification of Europe, we have come together in the Presidential Palace to call on you, the citizens of our country, to take part in the referendum on 16th and 17th May. The time has now come for you to assume your responsibilities about the future development of this country. We hope that as responsible citizens you will make the right choice". At the end of this solemn speech all of the country's political leaders, people from the economic and cultural milieu as well as the ambassadors of the 15 Member States of the EU went out into the streets of the centre of Bratislava to meet with the population and to convince them of the referendum's importance. On the evening of the first day of voting, Friday 16th May, when 25% of Slovaks had been to vote, Pavol Hrusovsky, President of the National Council of the Slovak Republic read out a declaration by the seven political parties represented in Parliament calling the electorate to go and vote the next day. Two hours before the closure of the polling stations the participation level was still insufficient (it had risen to 45%). President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda then launched a final appeal to voters calling on them to mobilise in order to make a popular success of the referendum.

"I am happy that Slovakia has now become the little star of the EU" declared Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda during a concert organised on Saturday night in the capital to celebrate the victory of the 'yes' to the referendum. For his part the President of the Republic thanked "all our country's citizens who went to vote over the last two days and who therefore decided on our entry into the community of developed European countries. The years to come will not always be easy but most of the difficulties will only be temporary," he added, promising to improve the population's standard of life in the near future as well as the country's economic competitiveness. The European Commission also congratulated the Slovaks on their vote. A communication from the European executive indicated: "By joining the EU it shows the Slovak people's strong desire to join the European family of democratic countries. Once in the Union Slovakia will be able to take advantage of all the possibilities offered by its status as a member in order to consolidate political stability, justice, and the State of law and to dynamise its economic development," Finally the president of the National Council of the Republic, Pavol Hrusovsky, declared "I congratulate all of Slovakia on this historic decision. Today we have a reason to be radiant with joy.". The country's EU membership treaty now has to be ratified by Parliament, which should be a matter of pure formality since all of the political parties represented there called to vote "yes".

After Malta, Hungary, Slovenia and Lithuania, Slovakia therefore becomes the fifth State to join the EU. Before the summer the Poles (7th and 8th June) and the Czechs (a week later) will also have to vote on their integration into Europe. Although in Czechia, membership of the EU can only be ratified by referendum, there is no minimum obligatory participation rate. The situation is different again in Poland where more than 50% must go and vote in order to validate the referendum. " Maybe the Slovak referendum is the occasion to increase significantly mobilisation in Poland and Czechia," declared the Slovak political analyst Michal Vasecka, "they still have time to undertake campaigns targeted towards groups of citizens who usually abstain, such as young people aged 18 to 24." The Czech Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda added "The referendum results will be a challenge for the Czechs". He rejoiced early saying "after over than 10 years the Czechs and the Slovaks will be together again in a united Europe." For his part the President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, declared that Slovakia's positive result would only encourage Polish citizens to go and vote and approve their country's membership of the European Union. Let us hope that the Slovak plebiscite will manage to convince the Poles and the Czechs of the importance of taking part in the referendum that involves the future of their country.

Referendum results on Slovakia's membership of the EU on 16th & 17th May 2003:

Participation : 52,15%

Source Agence France Presse

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