Sunday 43.5% of eligible voters turned out for the EU membership referendum in Croatia. 66% of these voted in favor of membership. Politicians breathed a sigh of relief; the danger the referendum would fall loomed large in their mind, but this outcome did not materialize Sunday. Since November 2010, when popular opposition to EU membership briefly overtook support, there was great uneasiness among the Europeanist power elite, that was evident from the over the top and sometimes panicked way in which they conducted their pro-membership campaign.
For one thing Sunday there was no campaign silence otherwise customary for polls in Croatia, enabling the government to continue to advertise for membership into the very day of the vote and make the most of the far greater visibility of its publicly funded pro-EU campaign, compared to that of the underfunded, but spirited, grass roots anti-EU effort (operating under condition of television lockout). In an even more controversial development, a few days earlier the Minister of External and European Affairs (apparently "European affairs" are not external) warned retirees that unless Croatia joined the EU they would not receive their pensions:
"I do not want to be overly cruel, but if we do not enter the EU you will not receive your pension! I can be repugnant to you, but do not let your life to be repugnant to you. That is what it is about! We are in dire straits! Vote for the future of this country!"*
The result of the referendum indicates the aggressiveness of pro-membership campaign paid off. But how did it arrive at its success and who did it achieve victory over? The key is that as the political class demonstrated its determination to stoop to whatever depths necessary to see the absorption into the EU would not be thwarted, the voters correctly figured membership was a foregone conclusion they could do little to affect in the end. Subsequently, those undecided did not bother to look into the matter at all, and numerous opponents, as well as many supporters, did not bother to visit the poll and cast a vote according to their conviction.
The abysmally low turnout of only 43.5% indicates that government pro-EU efforts did not so much convince the many opponents of EU status to come around, as it had the effect of deterring them from taking part in the vote. In the end 56.5% of the electorate stayed at home, 14.5% came out to express their disagreement with membership, 29% their agreement. The government's pro-EU effort then was not so much carried out in the context of competition between supporters and opponents of membership, as it represented a war of the power elites against any notion of people power — a struggle the latter lost handily. This, however, represents a defeat for opponents as well as supporters of joining the EU, provided they care for prospect of real democratic decision making at all.
*The statement was given in the context of hysterical scaremongering of how voting against EU membership would mean Croatia would "lose" its credit rating "inside the week [of the vote]", which would have the effect of raising interest rates and sending the economy on a catastrophic downward spiral. It is interesting the first thought of the Minister if the country ran out of funds was for retirees who would be left without pensions rather than say, ministers who would be left without their salaries. One almost supposes the Minister assumed the funds to pay the latter would always be found, no matter how low the credit rating. It is also interesting how the politicians saddling the country with debt becomes an argument to be even more sure to let them have their way. Surely if one's main concern is the debt crisis it is only sensible to attempt to frustrate the plans of the buffoons responsible for it instead?