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Cablegate: Referendum On Croatia's Entry Into Nato - Not Legally

VZCZCXRO3811
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0954 2920754
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190754Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8243
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000954

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

FOR EUR/SCE, EUR/RPM, EUR/PPD, PM, INR/EUR and IO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV HR POLITICAL PARTIES
SUBJECT: REFERENDUM ON CROATIA'S ENTRY INTO NATO - NOT LEGALLY
REQUIRED, BUT A RISK SOME PARTIES WOULD TAKE

1. SUMMARY: Real public debate on the pros and cons of Croatia's
NATO membership has only just begun, but the campaign for the
November 25 parliamentary elections has already produced promises of
a NATO referendum from some Croatian opposition parties. While all
parties in Parliament are pro-NATO and agree that a referendum to
join is not legally necessary, some argue that a referendum should
be held "to feel the people's pulse". A negative vote on NATO in
such a referendum, however, would not merely be politically
damaging, but, if turnout were over 50 percent, would be legally
binding on the government. END SUMMARY.

2. Croatia's major political parties, all of which are in varying
degrees pro-NATO, agree that NATO is an "international agreement."
Under the Croatian Constitution, joining an international agreement
requires only ratification by a two-thirds majority vote of all
representatives in the Croatian Parliament to enter into force.
However, Article 86 of the Constitution also allows Parliament to
call a referendum on any issue it considers important for Croatia.
While the ruling HDZ has indicated it would not call such a
referendum, most opposition parties - including the largest, the
Social-Democratic Party (SDP) - advocate holding such a referendum
on NATO "to feel the people's pulse." These parties argue that
Croatia's membership in NATO would be on sounder footing if it had
been explicitly endorsed by a pubic decision.

3. A decision in such a referendum is made by the majority of the
voters who participate, provided that more than half of all eligible
voters take part in it. While calling a referendum is not required
for Croatia to join an international agreement, if turnout is over
the 50 percent threshold, then its decision is legally binding on
the government. If turnout were below 50 percent, then the
referendum would be judged to have not reached a decision, and the
government would not be legally bound by the result. It would,
therefore, be legally free to complete NATO accession based solely
on Parliamentary ratification. Politically, however, unless the
government could argue that turnout was so low as to represent an
invalid measure of public opinion, it would be very difficult for a
government to ignore any result with a significant margin against
NATO. (NOTE: No such options exist for EU accession under the
current Constitution. Since the EU is considered an "alliance of
states", Article 141 of the Croatian Constitution requires that EU
accession be ratified by a positive decision in a referendum,
meaning that the 50% turnout requirement would have to be met for a
decision to be valid. END NOTE.)

4. The latest polls suggest that Croatian citizens' support the
country's entry into NATO hovers right around 50 percent, with
slightly higher figures if only those who say they would be likely
to vote are considered. Any party calling a referendum on NATO,
therefore, would need to commit to an energetic political campaign
to promote a yes vote. In addition, if a Croatian government
holding office after the upcoming November 25 elections decided to
call such a referendum, it would need to move quickly to establish
the mechanisms for such a vote, as Croatia lacks any experience with
referendums since its vote for independence in 1991.

BRADTKE

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