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Slovenians Approve NATO Membership - 2003-03-24

Slovenians on Sunday approved the country's membership in NATO, according to preliminary results. By a much bigger margin, voters in the former Yugoslav republic also endorsed Slovenia's membership in the European Union. The NATO membership vote reflected Slovenia's concern about the war in Iraq.

Preliminary official results show that more than six out of 10 Slovenians Participating in Sunday's referendum voted in favor of joining NATO in 2004.

Of the seven East and Central European countries invited to join NATO, Slovenia is the only one to hold a nationwide referendum. It is also the only one of the seven to distance itself from the war with Iraq.

Once strongly behind the government's push for joining the U.S. dominated NATO, Slovenians went into the Sunday referendum deeply divided over the U.S.-led military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein. The results of the referendum are seen as a clear victory for the country's leadership, including the recently elected President Janez Drnovsek, who had said that joining NATO would make Slovenia more secure.

On membership in the European Union, Slovenian voters showed near consensus, voting by a nine-to-one margin for joining the Union in 2004. Slovenia is one of the most prosperous countries in Central Europe.

Both the defense alliance and the European Union responded to the referendum, saying they welcomed the results.