Landslide vote in favour of Hungary joining EU


HUNGARY: The EU and the Hungarian government yesterday hailed a landslide vote in favour of Hungary joining the European Union, saying it could prove a catalyst for a pro-EU vote in other states due to hold membership referendums.

The vote was "a real occasion for joy," said the European Commission, the EU's executive branch.

A majority of 83.76 per cent of those who voted on Saturday in the referendum agreed the country should join the EU, the National Election Committee (NEC) said yesterday, announcing official final results.

Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of Malta's accession to the European Union took to the streets in celebration yesterday after pro-EU Prime Minister Mr Eddie Fenech Adami declared victory in Saturday's general election.

The turnout in Hungary was much lower than expected, at slightly over 45 per cent.

The result means Hungary can now join the EU in 2004, along with up to nine other candidate states from eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The overwhelming support by Hungary could whet appetites for membership in the more sceptical Poland and Czech Republic, due to hold referendums in June, as well as in Latvia and Estonia, where support has fluctuated.

According to a latest poll by the TNS Institute for the Czech foreign ministry, some 80 per cent of Czechs are ready to vote yes to joining the EU.

Hungary's newspapers welcomed the result: "We have arrived home, in Europe," said the left-leaning Nepszava.

Of the 10 candidates, only Malta and Slovenia have so far held EU referendums. Both voted yes, Slovenia by 90 per cent and Malta by 53 per cent.

But officials here were left wondering why Hungary's turnout was low, 45 per cent compared with the expected 70 per cent, despite the huge campaign.

Analysts concluded the referendum "fell victim to political fatigue" due to "years of suspense" in waiting for EU accession, as well as emotionally overcharged general and local elections last year.

In Malta, officials from both Mr Adami's ruling Nationalist Party and the main opposition Labour Party, which wants looser ties with the EU, said the Nationalists seemed to have won between 51 and 52 per cent of the vote.

"It's a hat-trick for Eddie," said one man, referring to Prime Minister Adami's success in local elections in one-third of Malta's localities and a referendum on EU membership, both held on March 8th, as well as Saturday's general election.

Malta's Electoral Commission said just over 96 per cent of registered voters had cast their votes on Saturday.

Such a high turnout is normal for general elections in Malta, but it is higher than the percentage who voted in a non-binding referendum on EU membership on March 8th which the yes camp won with 54 per cent.

Mr Adami (69), who has headed the Nationalist Party for 25 years, called the election a mere four days before Malta is due to join nine other states in signing the EU accession treaties.