Test for EU as Croatians vote on membership


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The Independent Online

Croatians voted in favour of joining the European Union yesterday despite a poor turnout for the key referendum.

Croatia's state election commission said that with nearly all the ballots calculated, 68 per cent of those who took part answered "yes".

Only 42 per cent of eligible voters were estimated to have taken part, illustrating voters' apathy towards the debt-stricken EU.

It was among the lowest turnouts in any of the EU states that have held accession referendums before they joined. About 45 per cent took part in the vote in Hungary, while more than 90 per cent voted in Malta.

"The people are obviously tired," Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said. "It would have been better that the turnout was larger, but that's reality." He added: "This is a historic decision, the turning point in our history, as from now on, everything, including success or failure, depends only on us." Anti-EU activists were furious, however.

"The turnout shows that Croatia has turned its back to the EU," said war veteran Zeljko Sacic, who led a campaign against membership. "This referendum is illegitimate. We will never recognise it."

Croatia signed an EU accession treaty last year and will become its 28th member in July 2013 after all the bloc's states ratify the deal.

Those who supported membership said the country's troubled economy – burdened by recession, €48bn of foreign debt and a 17 per cent unemployment rate – will revive with access to wider European markets and job opportunities. But opponents said Croatia would lose its sovereignty and the national identity it fought for in its war of independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s.