All together the poles say "yes" to their country's entry into the European Union


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


8 June 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

"A great, proud nation is about to turn the page on a tragic century in order to take up the place that rightfully belonged to it from the very start of the European integration procedure. It is a turning point in Europe's history. Participation in the election, that went well beyond the usual ones seen in Poland, confirms that Polish citizens were fully conscious of the historical nature of the choice they were making. This is what I call a nation's wisdom." declared Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission when the results of the referendum on Poland's membership of the European Union were announced. All European leaders rejoiced at the Polish vote who together said "yes" to their European integration, approved by 77.41% of the electorate, 22.59% against. "The Polish nation is taking back its full place within our European family. It is very good news for Europe that will be strong with Poland. It's very good news for Poland who will be stronger within Europe," declared the French delegate minister for European Affairs.

Since all onlookers were expecting a victory by the "yes" vote the only real uncertainty of this election lay in the participation level that had absolutely to be higher than 50% of those registered on the electoral role for the election to be declared valid. This concern was still of consequence on Saturday night at the end of the first day of the referendum, organised exceptionally over two days so that the greatest number of Poles possible might go to vote, since only 17.61% of those registered had fulfilled the duty as a citizen, of which 34% were in Warsaw and around 10% in rural areas (we should point out however that many Poles who are used to voting on a Sunday, also work on Saturdays). Until the very last minute those in favour of membership spared no effort to attract the Poles to the 25,165 polling stations across the country. Owners of mobile phones received SMS messages from the Bureau for European Integration reminding them that they could vote until 20:00. The museums in Warsaw, the capital, were free of entry for the whole weekend to encourage city dwellers not to leave the town. The country's main daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, published a special edition that was distributed on Sunday in all the country's main towns calling on people to vote: "There has to be more voting on Sunday, we are 9.6 million votes short" was the headline on the daily's front page. Likewise young Poles who were celebrating their 18th birthday on 7th and 8th June were able to go and vote due to special clearance. Finally on Sunday all priests reminded church-goers of Pope Jean-Paul II's message that encouraged the Poles to put an end to the historical divisions in Europe and to vote "yes" to the membership referendum. The Primate of Poland, Mgr Jozef Glemp launched a final appeal to his countrymen to participate in the referendum emphasising that although it was possible to imagine Poland outside the EU then such isolation might not be kept up for a long time. Poles living abroad rallied in great number; 85% of those registered fulfilled their duty as citizens, 80% of them declaring they were in favour of Poland's membership of the European Union.

All of this effort paid off since nearly 6 Poles in 10 (58.82%) went to vote in the end over the two days of referendum, - an even greater number mobilised than was hoped for last week by the most optimistic of analysts.

"We're back in Europe, in the place that Poles and Poland deserve," said the President of the Republic Aleksander Kwasniewski on Sunday evening, adding, "it is also good news for Europe: a great and ambitious people has joined the European Union." The President thanked the hierarchy of the Polish Catholic Church and above all Pope Jean-Paul II for his support and appeals to the Polish people to vote in favour of European integration.: "Today we should thank our fellow countryman for constantly being by our side in our efforts and to always have supported, advised and warned us." For his part the Pope sent a message read by a Vatican spokesperson saying that he "hoped that Poland's entry into European institutions would contribute to resolving both the social and economic problems that resulted from the artificial divisions across Europe in the past."

As soon as the results were announced a great number of Poles went out into the streets in the biggest cities where several concerts and firework displays had been organised, and where dancing spontaneously started in celebration of Poland's entry into the EU. In the capital, Warsaw the Town Opera's orchestra and choir gathered on a rostrum that had been set up outside to start playing the Ode to Joy, prelude to the Fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's IX symphony and which is also the European Union's anthem. The party continued late into the night with Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, whose wife Marta is producing Puccini's La Rondine in the Polish capital. For their part the younger generation gathered together to listen to some quite different music at the foot of the column in the square of the Royal Castle in Warsaw's old town. There was written on an immense banner with European colours "I love you European Union". The various NGO's who had taken part in the electoral campaign for the referendum also organised a party at the Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw.

The declarations in which two historical adversaries, Lech Walesa and Wojciech Jaruzelski, were in agreement are indeed symbols of the giant step that the Poles had just taken: "If someone had predicted this event 20 years ago I would have said that it was science fiction , drama, absurd. But realities change: internal, international, historical. This is a new reality that has to be reckoned with. I took this into account when I voted for Poland's entry into the European Union. I feel that I am participating in something great, of importance, something that is meaningful. It is a great and happy day," declared the general, former strong arm of Communist power in Poland during the 1980's. The historic leader of Solidarity and former president of the Polish republic announced that he had voted "yes" to the membership referendum emphasising that, "I have always believed in democracy and peaceful means. This is the last stage on a road where we have overcome the last obstacles lying in the way of our development. This was my final battle."

On Sunday, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is now going to ratify Poland's membership treaty to the European Union that was signed on 16th April last in Athens, said he was determined to establish a new majority with a view to making the necessary preparations for the country's European integration. During the week the President will have talks with the government and the different political movements on the reform of government finance, the State budget in 2004 and the preparatory work for membership. "A parliamentary membership is now indispensable in order to adopt the reform on government finance. There is no room for uncertainty. If out of 10 draft laws, five are adopted and five rejected no serious reform can be achieved. The government now has to prove that it has ideas about promoting economic development, the fight against unemployment, poverty, and the improvement of the national education system," declared Aleksander Kwasniewski in an open interview published on Monday 9th June in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Leaders of the main opposition movements are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who has been weakened by a difficult economic situation and a number of corruption scandals. This departure is, according to the opinion polls, desired by a great majority of Poles. The leader of the Polish Agricultural Party (PSL), Jaroslaw Kalinowski, former deputy-Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, who resigned from government on 1st March last made this departure a condition for his possible return to government coalition. The latter is a minority in the country since the two movements comprising it (the Alliance for the Democratic Left (SLD) and the Labour Union (UP)) only have 212 MP's out of the 460 in the Diet, the lower Chamber of Polish Parliament. Although Poland's entry into the European Union is now effective, it appears that Leszek Miller's government's days are numbered.

Referendum Results on Poland's membership of the European Union on 7th and 8th June 2003:

Participation : 58.82%

Source National Polish Electoral Commission

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