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The Croatian government has launched its campaign to garner support for a January referendum on the country's EU membership bid.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic called on Croatians to vote 'yes'. She told reporters that the poll was not simply a formality, and would determine whether Croatia belongs to Europe politically, as it has always belonged to it "geographically, historically and culturally".
The referendum, scheduled for January 22, is expected to receive the support of sixty per cent of voters, recent polls show.
The government in Zagreb, which will spend 4,8 million kuna (€0,6 million) on the campaign, will send out some two million booklets with basic information about the EU, while the Foreign Ministry has published data and documents about Croatia's future membership in the bloc on its web site.
Zagreb has also launched a broad media campaign that includes filmed messages from Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, and the president of the biggest opposition party, HDZ, Jadranka Kosor. In the broadcasts, the officials tell Croatians that EU membership will bring peace, security and a better life.
When asked what would happen if EU membership was rejected in the referendum, Foreign Minister Pusic said that the country's accession process would come to a halt.
"We could repeat the referendum in six months or a year. But then, even if we vote 'yes', everything depends on the EU. It could decide to wait for some other Balkan countries to prepare for the union, and then ask Croatia to join together with them,“ Pusic explained.
"Reforms would continue," she added, "but with fewer funds because we wouldn't be able to get money from Europe."
While the government and the opposition are pushing hard for a vote in support of accession to the EU, some civil groups are campaigning for a 'no' vote.
The civil initiative "Council for Croatia – no to EU" also held a press conference on Tuesday, and called on voters to reject EU membership. The group, which includes several political parties not represented in parliament and small NGOs, asked the government to finance its activities and postpone the referendum.
"History will show that the EU is one more deception for the Croatian nation,“ said Marjan Bosnjak from the initative.
According to Croatian law, no minimum turnout is required for the referendum. Voters will be asked one question: "Do you want Croatia to become a member of the European Union?“
Foreign Minister Pusic said yesterday that recent polls indicate that voter turnout could reach eighty per cent, which, according to her, would be extremely important.
Croatia signed its EU accession treaty in early December, and is aiming to become the European club’s 28th member state on July 1, 2013, pending approval at the referendum and the ratification of its treaty by the parliaments of the current EU member states.
Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic says Croatian EU entry referendum will be held in January 2012.
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