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EU Accession Referendums in Central & Eastern Europe. Mikolaj Czesnik Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences. FP6 Civic Active. Introduction

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EU Accession Referendums in Central & Eastern Europe

Mikolaj Czesnik

Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences

FP6 CivicActive


This poster is designed to show the results of the EU accession referendums, which were surely one of the most important events in the modern history of Central and Eastern European countries. We focus on referendum results and voter turnout. On the basis of the data presented we argue that Central and Eastern European citizenries expressed in this way their strong support for the idea of European integration. However, referendum results could have been much more significant had voter turnout been higher (and had the abstainers voted for integration and enlargement, not against).

Graph 1. Results of the EU Accession Referenda in Central and Eastern Europe.


It is often argued that the 2003 referendums were a huge victory for the European idea and the European integration project. Indeed, the data presented in Graph 1 seem to confirm this notion. The graph summarizes the results of referendums in 8 post-communist countries – the new members that entered EU on the 1st May 2004. As can be seen in all the countries, opponents of the integration were in minority, and the YES camps everywhere won by a huge margin (in Estonia, where the gap was smallest, there were twice as many supporters of the integration as opponents).

However, graph 1 does not include very important information – data on voter turnout. These details are provided by Graph 2. Electorates in all countries are split into 3 groups: YES-voters, NO-voters and abstainers. This analysis sheds new light on the referendum results. In 6 out of 8 countries YES-voters constitute only a minority of the electorate – more than 50% of the citizens eligible to vote either abstained or voted against EU enlargement.

Can these 2 groups be interpreted in the same manner? Does non-voting in EU accession referendums mean opposing the idea of EU enlargement and integration? As studies on voter turnout in Central and Eastern Europe suggest there are other protest and dissatisfaction motivations of electoral abstention in the region (Graph 3 shows the dynamics of voter turnout in the region). Thus we should not treat abstainers as opponents of EU accession.

Graph 3. Voter turnout in Central and Eastern Europe.

Graph 2. Results of the EU Accession Referenda in Central and Eastern Europe (voter turnout included).


The results of the 2003 referendums, though less optimistic if voter turnout data is accounted for, should not worry proponents and constructors of the European Union. The idea of European integration was then widely supported among Central and Eastern Europe citizenries, thoughthe number of all citizens eligible to vote, who directly supported accession was not great (varying from 38% in Hungary to 57% in Lithuania).However, it was due to other factors than fear of European Union and doubts about a common European future. In a nutshell, in Central and Eastern Europe voter abstention for several reasons has been a widespread phenomenon. Thus, non-voting here cannot be automatically defined as an indication of protest, dissatisfaction or boycott of the EU.