Croatians voting in this weekend’s referendum have given the green light to the country’s accession to the European Union in July 2013. However with only 47 per cent of those eligible turning out to vote, enthusiasm for the initiative seems muted.
With nearly all ballots counted, Croatia's state referendum commission said that about 66 per cent of those who took part in the referendum answered "yes" to the question: "Do you support the membership of the Republic of Croatia in the European Union?"
About 33 per cent were against, while the rest of the ballots were invalid. The turnout of 44 per cent, however, pointed to apathy on the issue among many.
For the country’s accession to the Union, no fewer than half had to vote “yes” in the referendum. Croatia signed an EU accession treaty last December after seven years of entry talks, though the EU delayed a final decision due to Croatia’s territorial disputes with neighboring Slovenia. Croatia was also urged to arrest war crimes suspects on its territory. Now, the country is slated to become the 28th EU member on July 1, 2013, if all the bloc’s member states ratify the deal.
While a majority of voters support Croatia’s accession to the EU, a significant number still oppose it – with police clashing on Saturday with anti-EU demonstrators and reportedly arresting three. The violence erupted at the end of a protest rally of about 1,000 activists when a group of demonstrators attempted to take down an EU flag.
RT’s Tom Barton the witnessed violent scenes in the Croatian capital triggered by the prospect of EU membership.
“The police are trying to push the protesters away as they take anti-EU protesters away. The situation is immensely tense here in the Croatian capital – fighting has broken out and it‘s been going on for a little while now. Police are trying to take people away in vans and protesters are trying to stop them,” Barton reported.
The anti-EU protesters say the government is trying to suppress any dissent. They argue that joining the bloc would surrender Croatia‘s independence to Brussels.
A few streets away the foreign minister, Vesna Pusic, has been trying to convince people that accession is vital for the Croatian economy.
“Actually without the stability that‘s calculated into the credit rating of Croatia that is translated into membership of the European Union, Croatia‘s budget would be in serious trouble,” argues Pusic.
Everywhere you turn in Croatia, the EU is being discussed. But whereas most of the political class present a seamlessly Europhile stance, public views differ widely.
Fishermen fear the Italians will encroach on their waters and exhaust the supply of fish. Small family businesses fear suffocation as the EU favors retail giants. Others say Croatians will have to obey the EU‘s regulations, and those who do not, will have to stop trading.
Worries about sovereignty, local industries and economic wellbeing are foremost.
And there are still some voices in parliament that think the benefits of joining are not worth the costs.
“We‘re not going in with our heads high up, were going on our knees because our economy is non-existent, our exporting is pretty bad, our GDP is very low, so we don‘t really have anything to offer,” Ruzhia Tomasic, Croatian Nationalist Party leader, told RT.
Even at the local theater, the drama being staged focuses on Croatia‘s relationship with Europe.However, those on stage are less than enthusiastic about the issue, preferring to poke fun at it.
“It‘s irritating because all you can read on Facebook, it‘s all pro or anti EU, and its getting a bit absurd because there is no real quality debate,” says one of the actors, Miran Kursphahic.
Back out on the streets the arguments, quality or not, continue with ferocity. With such strong emotions in play, it seems unlikely this referendum will heal the country’s divisions over European membership.