A small “yes” to EU, 23 January 2012 (Presseurop)
On 22 January, Croats voted in favour of ratifying the Treaty of Accession to the EU, prompting a sigh of relief in Brussels. The record voter abstention rate, however, must give cause for concern, notes the Croatian press.
In Novi List, editorialist Neven Santic welcomes the historic “yes” given by his fellow citizens to joining the EU “despite the efforts of the opponents of European integration and the fears in the minds of many voters.” For Santic –
Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union. The democratic dream of an optimistic people in the late 1980s and early 1990s has been transformed into doubt over the last two decades, confronted by a reality that’s anything but idyllic because of the problems faced by both Croatia and by the EU, whose workings are far from ideal. But as of yesterday that dream has become the reality we will have to live with. Of course, we must be realistic. Following the referendum, and especially after July 1, 2013 [when membership comes into force], Croatia will not become a land of plenty. The EU is not a remedy against everything that troubles us. It is far from being a personification of Good, an idyllic community of states and nations. It has its problems and its often painful methods for solving them. In such a “community of interests”, Croatia must find its proper place. There are many conflicts, and the Union provides fertile soil for eurosceptics. But for now, there is no doubt that the accession to the EU is a big step for Croatia. The country has lost nothing, and especially not her sovereignty. It can only benefit.
Senol Selimovic, a columnist for Sloboda Dalmacija, a daily from Split, reflects on the “historical record for low voter turnout in an EU membership referendum” that Croats set on January 22:
At 43.6 percent, turnout is the lowest ever recorded for this kind of consultation at a European level. It is even lower than the percentage of Hungarians (45.62 percent) who voted in the 2003 referendum on the future of their country inside Europe. “If the Croatian government had not in the meantime changed the constitutional law on the referendum, the referendum would have failed for lack of voter turnout. But the Croatian political elite avoided this “trap” in time, and they can now clink glasses over the fruits of their long effort to persuade the people on the future of the country… The low turnout, however, does leave a bitter taste, indicating as it does that the arguments put forward by the political leaders in favour of the EU have been unconvincing and that they have failed to inspire citizens to take part in a vote of such historical importance… The Croatian government even betrayed that part of the pro-European but democratically-minded public that denounced the lack of equal treatment for organisations and groups that opposed joining the EU, in terms of financing and media slots to present their arguments. Instead of an information campaign, it has been a propaganda campaign. In place of a historic referendum like that of 1991 (on Croatian independence), in which 83.5 percent of the population took part, the January 22 referendum will go down in European history for its abstention rate.
Augustin Palokaj of Jutarnji List focuses on the sigh of relief that Brussels must have uttered after Croatia’s “yes” vote:
By voting yes, Croatian citizens have shown that joining was not just the project of the political elites, but a project that had their backing too. Nevertheless, the low voter turnout in such a significant popular vote has not gone unnoticed. Indeed, the number of participants, as well as the number of “yes” voters, sends a clear message: Croatians want to be in the EU, but they do not expect great things from it. The EU is not a perfect institution. We can blame a lot of things on the way it operates, but like it or not, it is better to be a member of this Union and fight for our interests inside it. In short, the Croats have no illusions about the EU. There is no room for euphoria, and that’s a good thing. […] Considering the difficult situation the EU is in now, the Croatian “yes” is also a great comfort to the EU, as a “no” would have meant a glaring failure for the Union.