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Czech Republic to Hold Referendum on EU Membership - 2003-06-12

The Czech Republic holds a referendum Friday and Saturday on European Union membership. Six of the nine candidate countries slated to vote on joining next year have already voted 'yes,' and Czech Republic holds a referendum Friday and Saturday on European Union membership. also appear to favor EU membership.

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel attends a rally in Prague to drum up support for EU membership. He says those who, "fuss about losing our sovereignty" are "misguided."

Mr. Havel adds that "sovereignty will be lost, by the people who deserve to lose it." But his political rival and current Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, disagrees.

Mr. Klaus compares joining the European Union to being a "lump of sugar dropped into a cup of coffee." He has suggested that entry into the union would shorten the period of independence that the Czech Republic has enjoyed since Soviet domination ended in 1989.

While that is music in the ears of those Czechs who will vote 'no,' opinion polls show that about three out of every four voters favor joining the 15-nation union.

And unlike the other mainly former Communist countries holding referenda on the issue, the Czech Republic does not require a minimum 50 percent voter turnout to validate the process.

Still, Monika Pajerova, a former student activist from the 1989 overthrow of communism, has been busily encouraging people to go out and vote. Ms. Pajerova, who leads the "Yes for Europe" non-profit group, told Radio Prague that a low turnout would send the wrong message.

"We don't have the 50 percent threshold, as the Poles did, for example, but we think that it is very important that the "Yes" is strong," she said. "Because if only a few people come, even if 75 percent of those few people say, "Yes," it's a very weak "Yes." We need a strong "Yes." We need to show that this is really the will of the Czech people, and I think it's the biggest occasion since maybe November 17, 1989."

Ms. Pajerova and other EU supporters claim that membership will further improve living standards in the country of roughly 10 million people, which split from Slovakia in 1993.

Czech voters have watched as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Malta have given their blessing to EU entry, although low turnouts tempered the mood in several countries.

Voters in Poland overwhelmingly approved EU entry in a referendum last Saturday and Sunday, and Estonia and Latvia are expected to vote this fall. Cyprus does not plan to hold a ballot on the issue.