Hungarian European Union membership referendum, 2003
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A referendum on joining the European Union was held in Hungary on 12 April 2003. The proposal was approved by 83.8% of voters, with a voter turnout of 45.6%. Hungary subsequently joined the EU on 1 May 2004.
Hungary submitted a membership application to the EU on 31 March 1994 and negotiations on entry began in 1998. At a summit in Copenhagen in December 2002, Hungary was one of ten countries invited to join the EU in 2004. All major parties agreed that a binding referendum on membership was needed before Hungary could join the EU.
The National Assembly of Hungary changed the rules on referendums in Hungary in 1997, the previous requirement that turnout be over 50% was removed and instead the requirement became that over 25% of registered voters had to support a referendum. In December 2002 the Constitution of Hungary was amended to enable a referendum on EU membership to take place. As part of the amendment it was agreed that the referendum would take place on 12 April 2003.
The question voted on in the referendum was:
"Do you agree that the Republic of Hungary should become a member of the European Union?"
- Hungarian: Egyetért-e azzal, hogy a Magyar Köztársaság az Európai Unió tagjává váljon?
All of the major political parties in Hungary, the trade unions, business organisations, churches, and media supported membership of the EU. However the main opposition party Fidesz, while supporting membership, warned that up to 100,000 jobs could be lost due to EU regulations and that foreign competition could cause some sectors of the economy to collapse.
Media coverage was overwhelmingly positive and a campaign was made to dispel popular misconceptions of EU membership. These included whether the eating of poppy seed dumplings would be allowed in the EU and if only one size of condom was available in the EU. Each of the four main parties also ran their own campaigns in support of the referendum.
The opposition camp was confined to some small groups which organised themselves into the "Movement for a Free Hungary". None of these groups were in the Hungarian parliament and thus were unable to get any state funding for their campaign. Most opponents stressed they were not against "Europe" but were objecting to the accession terms and the current form of the EU. However opinion polls during the campaign showed strong support for membership.
|Source: Nohlen & Stöver|
Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy announced the result at a celebration on the banks of the Danube telling them, "Allow me to officially announce that the Hungarian republic will be a member of the European Union". The European Commission welcomed the result as marking the end of Hungary's "tragic separation from the European family of democratic nations".
There was concern however at the turnout which was significantly below the 70% that had been hoped for. There was criticism that the danger of the referendum being invalid due to low turnout was not stressed during the campaign. The opposition criticised the government's campaign as being simplistic while the government accused the opposition of being lukewarm in their support for membership. However the yes vote at 38% of voters was comfortably above the 25% level required for the referendum to be valid.
- Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p899 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
- Nohlen & Stöver, p912
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