Croatia elects Europe Parliament MPs Sunday ahead of joining EU

AFP , Sunday 14 Apr 2013

Croatians will vote on the country's first Euro-MPs ahead of official EU accession 1 July

Flags of Croatia and the European Union are seen on the government's building in Zagreb, 24 June, 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

Croatia on Sunday elects its first members to the European Parliament ahead of officially joining the European Union on 1 July, with expected low turnout reflecting tepid enthusiasm for membership in the bloc.

Officials in the former Yugoslav republic, independent since 1991, have insisted that the vote to select the 12 lawmakers is "historic" and a key milestone on a path marked by years of difficult reforms.

On the eve of the vote, President Ivo Josipovic urged Croatians to cast ballots. "It is extremely important not only on a symbolic level but since we enter the decision-making process in the EU," he said.

However, ordinary citizens seem to be more concerned by the sluggish tourism-dependent economy, which has not grown since 2009.

While opinion polls show that slightly more than half of the population back Croatia's EU membership, analysts are predicting the turnout for Sunday's poll to be low.

At a referendum on EU entry, held in January last year, turnout was 44 percent with 66 percent of Croatians casting a 'Yes' vote.

Analysts say that enthusiasm for EU membership is fading due to a difficult economic situation and problems within the bloc.

But they estimate that when the country of 4.2 million joins the 27-nation EU it would not be bring with it the same financial problems as some existing members.

"Croatia won't be a burden for the EU," because it has a stable banking sector and solid tourist industry, economic analyst Damir Novotny told AFP. Nonetheless, he warned that problems could surface, "if negative trends continue."

Poor interest in Sunday's vote is also explained by lacklustre campaigns on EU-related issues and the fact that the deputies' mandate will be for one year only, until Europe-wide elections in 2014 choose a new European Parliament for the following five years.

Pre-vote polling suggests the ruling Social Democrats and their two junior coalition partners will take six of the 12 seats. The others will probably go to the opposition conservative HDZ Party and the Labour Party, surveys showed.

Polling stations will open at 05.00 GMT and close 12 hours later. First partial results are expected around 20.00 GMT.

Croatia will be only the second of six former Yugoslav republics to join the EU, nine years after Slovenia.

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