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Czech Voters Approve EU Membership - 2003-06-14


Voters in the Czech Republic have overwhelmingly approved membership in the European Union. Turnout in the two-day referendum was 55 percent after the country's pro-EU prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, appealed to Czechs to take part in the landmark ballot.

Seventy seven out of every 100 Czech voters said "yes" to joining the European Union in May next year, along with seven other former communist countries plus Malta and Cyprus.

The high turnout was welcomed Saturday by Prime Minister Spidla. No minimum turnout was required, but Mr. Spidla had warned that a weak yes vote would harm the Czech Republic's credibility.

But not all Czechs are pleased with EU membership. Among pensioners, farmers and laborers there is concern EU entry will mean higher prices and more hardship.

Economic reforms have already seen prices in the Czech Republic jump to western European levels, while average monthly wages remain substantially lower than those in the EU.

President Vaclav Klaus, who had been lukewarm about Czech membership, nonetheless described the vote as an important stage in the Czech Republic's post Communist development.

"It's an important moment in our effort to become, after 13 years, a normal standard European country," he said. "In some respect the vote [is] part of that whole process."

Mr. Klaus's predecessor, Vaclav Havel, sees membership in the European Union as the crown on Czech efforts to return to Europe after decades of communism. The former dissident says membership is an essential step to reviving the country's economic and democratic traditions.

The binding referendum was the first ever held in the Czech Republic. It followed similar pro-membership votes in Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia. Latvia and Estonia will hold referendums in September, while Cyprus will leave the decision to its parliament.

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