A Polish "yes" to EU membership, just before Czechs decide

Photo: CTK

An important step in the expansion of the European Union was made this weekend, when Poland - by far the largest of the ten candidate countries - voted a clear "yes" in a referendum on EU membership. This took place just one week before a referendum in the Czech Republic on the same issue, and the Polish result could also influence the vote here.

Photo: CTK
First Slovakia, and then Poland - both of the Czech Republic's eastern neighbours have now said "yes" to membership in the EU. And, just as with the Slovak vote three weeks ago, the Polish referendum was also a dramatic one: there were fears that turnout would not be high enough to reach the fifty per cent mark required to validate the referendum.

The Polish vote took place on Saturday and Sunday, but at the end of the first day just under eighteen per cent of voters had cast their ballots. By Sunday, however, the turnout was much higher, as many people in the predominantly Roman Catholic country went to the polling booths after mass.

Aleksander Kwasniewski  (right),  photo: CTK
In the end, around fifty eight per cent of Poles voted in the referendum, and partial results indicate that seventy seven per cent of them said "yes" to EU membership. But despite the historic decision, Czech Radio's Pavel Novak reports from Warsaw that people in the Polish capital have not been celebrating on the streets:

"Several hundred of Warsaw's citizens came together on the square near the National Opera to listen to the Polisand European Union anthems, and a piece by the national composer Stanislaw Moniuszko. The planned concert didn't take place, and the fireworks that Warsaw's city hall was meant to prepare didn't appear in the sky. Throughout the day in Warsaw people haven't been rejoicing over the result of the referendum too much. The streets are practically empty, and the main celebrations are being held in political quarters."

Polish President Alexandser Kwasniewski said that the results of the referendum will certainly be a very important signal for the Czech Republic, as significant as the results from Slovakia and Latvia were for the Poles.

In the Czech Republic, all of the latest polls indicate that over fifty per cent of Czechs will be participating in the referendum on EU membership on Friday and Saturday. While the Czech referendum does not need to meet the fifty per cent threshold that the Polish and Slovak ones did, the Czech government would of course like to see as high a turnout - and as high a "yes" vote - as possible.