Poland Backs EU Membership with Resounding `Yes'

Article excerpt

POLAND DELIVERED a resounding "yes" vote in a referendum on membership of the European Union last night, securing the country's aspirations to break with its Communist past.

Exit polls showed 82 per cent of Poles had endorsed the decision to join the EU next May, and that enough people had taken part in the poll to give its result legal force. As results filtered through, President Aleksander Kwasniewski told cheering supporters outside the presidential palace: "We are coming back. We are coming back to Europe."

Across the country jubilant Poles celebrated with fireworks and concerts. Lech Walesa, the founder of the Solidarity movement and a former president, said: "We achieved a success. Let's celebrate. Let us have some satisfaction, which is not a frequent thing here."

While opinion polls have long indicated that a clear majority of Poles were in favour of EU membership, a combination of apathy and disenchantment with the government had threatened to undermine the process through a low turnout.

Under Polish law, the referendum only has legal force if the 50 per cent threshold is passed. Anything less and Poland's accession treaty would have to be ratified by the national parliament, putting the fragile government of Leszek Miller, the Prime Minister, at the mercy of the opposition.

But exit polls last night showed turnout for the two-day referendum at 59 per cent of the registered 29.5 million voters. A relieved Mr Miller welcomed the results, declaring: "We are citizens of Poland, we are citizens of Europe. …