Prime Minister Dzurinda:
Leading the way into EU
 But victory celebrations were tempered by poor voter turnout that nearly invalidated the result.

   

There was little question that the country was strongly in favour of joining the bloc next May, with opinion polls showing nearly 80% wanted accession.

   

Voters had been expected to be apathetic, and they were, with turnout lurking just below the 50% threshold needed to make the result stand with less than an hour left in the voting.

   

Official results were not released, but Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in a speech that the country had given a resounding yes to accession, and more importantly, that the referendum was valid.

   

"The referendum is valid, and an overwhelming majority of our citizens said 'yes' for Slovakia to enter the EU. Good luck to you all in the EU," Dzurinda said in a speech to the nation.

   

He did not give exact numbers for either the percentage of votes cast in favour of EU entry, or for the turnout.

   

Sources at the Central Electoral Committee said turnout was 52.15% with accession approval at 92.46%. Official results are expected to be released on Sunday.

 

Solid votes

   

"We were sweating it out a bit in the morning and afternoon because it looked touch and go, but at the end of day, it turned out fine," European Commission ambassador to Slovakia Eric Van der Linden said.

 

Out of all countries that have had referendums, the percentage of 'yes' votes appears to be the highest in Slovakia. 

 

The low turnout comes barely a month after only 46% of voters cast their ballots in neighbouring Hungary's referendum that voted in favour of accession. Poland and the Czech Republic will vote on the issue in June.

   

Malta, Lithuania, and Slovenia have also held referendums that gave the green light to joining the group of wealthier European nations in May 2004.