“A clear majority in favour of EU-accession”, that is how the teletext of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation reported about the referendum in Croatia regarding the country’s accession to the EU. And indeed, two thirds of he votes cast said “yes”. Taking into account the historically low turnout in the referendum of 43 %, this means that not more than 29 % of the population entitled to vote spoke out in favour of EU-accession.
On the eve of Croatia’s referendum on the accession to the European Union, the former war-general Ante Gotovina, who now spends his time in Den Haag and who once was the biggest obstacle to Croatian negotiations with the EU, sent his epistle to the Croatian people to vote in favour of the EU. At the same time, the two biggest Croatian parties, the Social Democrats (SDP) – now in power – and the Conservatives (HDZ) – the former ruling party – together with the Croatian Catholic Church, did everything to convince the voters that “there is no alternative”.
In a cynical remark, we could say that there must be something wrong if a former Croatian patriot, both the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, together with the church, can’t wait to join the EU. Only a few days before the referendum, the foreign minister even went so far as to point out that they will not pay the pensions if the vote won’t be “Yes” (apparently due to fall of rating). And in the last weeks, thanks to a “Yes”-campaign that was worth around 600,000 Euro, the main arguments consisted in exactly such types of blackmail alternatives, among them the most frequent, “If we don’t enter the EU, we will stay on the Balkans”.
In such an atmosphere it is no surprise that the referendum on Croatia’s accession to the EU recorded the lowest turnout among all current members. With a participation of only 43 % of the citizens, Croatia has beaten the previous record holder Hungary, where the referendum on this issue was attended by 45 %. One possible explanation was nicely formulated by Croatia’s Prime Minister after the first official results: “Afraid that the referendum might fail, we changed the constitution”. If the well-known definition of cynicism – “we know what we are doing, but we are doing it anyway” – ever had its full impact, it is here. Not only were the rules for a referendum changed in 2010 exactly for pushing through EU-membership, but also other (legal, economic, etc.) affairs were carefully settled in the last 10 years in order to get a “Yes”. If we add the current crisis of the EU, then the low turnout is not really a big surprise.