A united Europe is as a pure goal to strive for as any other I can think of. This Sunday, Croatian citizens decide if they want to join the EU. The first thing to make absolutely clear is that the referendum is not some kind of a general question of attitude (like the one expressed in the introductory statement), but acceptance or rejection of very specific and complex package of political and economic changes. Make no mistake, it is complex: if it was not, the Government and all its ministries would not have needed several years to complete the preparations. It defines the split of legislative power between Croatian and EU institutions and sets a large number of very specific constraints on the Croatian economy. Not surprisingly, after (what has generally been seen as) quite a secretive preparation process, people overwhelmingly (87%) say they don’t know enough to make an informed decision.
At the same time, the referendum is not just or not even mainly about Croatia joining the EU. The former Government signed an accord with a group of 5 labour unions which requires the Government to add a second referendum question:
“Do you want to make a referendum mandatory if 200 000 [instead of 450 000] registered voters asks for it and their signatures are collected within 30 days [instead of 15]?”
This is the most important democracy and governance issue taken up since the country’s independence. It is the main reason why Croatia did not see a referendum in 20 years and has proven to be extremely difficult to get a government to do anything about. The EU referendum is therefore a historic occasion because the public finally managed to push the Government into a corner and make it sign an accord to give citizens the chance to change the referendum law.
But that was several months ago. Now, 5 labour unions and 6 members of parliament (among others) asked the Government to delay the EU referendum by 3 months to address both issues: the delay would give them time to include the second question and to provide appropriate information to allow citizens come to an informed decision.
The Government has ignored its obligation and the EU referendum will have only one question. As recently as one year ago, these same politicians were the ones proposing the lower referendum threshold in the first place.
If they are willing to deny us the opportunity to add the second question in spite of a written agreement, if they would rather indoctrinate than inform their citizens and if it is those people who are asking us to vote for the EU trusting their judgement, than vote against. Not to spite them, because that would be irresponsible, but to teach them a lesson and to revolutionise Croatian democracy: they must learn that there will certainly be no transfer of sovereignty to the EU until we are given enough information and until we can also vote on the referendum law. We are the ones who set the terms: they are public servants, there to serve citizens and carry out the citizens’ will, not the other way around!
What the Government is implying is that without an external hand to hold us, Croatia is a failed state. They aim to scare, as many regimes before them. If we shared that belief, if we ourselves had lost all hope of a prosperous, independent future, than the EU could not possibly save us. A “no” this Sunday is not a “no” to Europe, but merely a forced 12-month delay, when they would not wilfully grant a 3-month delay themselves. Then we can judge what needs to be done: we can make a decision instead of a guess, based on conviction rather than fear. Then we can change the referendum law and finally make the people’s voices be heard!