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Croatia elects Europe parliament MPs ahead of joining EU

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Croatia on Sunday elects its first members to the European Parliament ahead of officially joining the European Union on July 1, with expected low turnout reflecting only tepid enthusiasm for membership in the bloc.

Officials in the former Yugoslav republic, independent since 1991, have insisted that the vote to select the 12 lawmakers is "historic" and a key milestone on a path marked by years of difficult reforms.

On the eve of the vote President Ivo Josipovic urged Croatians to cast ballots.

"It is extremely important not only on a symbolic level but since we enter the decision-making process in the EU," he said.

However, ordinary citizens seem to be more concerned by the sluggish tourism-dependent economy which has not grown since 2009.

While opinion polls show that slightly more than half of the population back Croatia's EU membership, analysts are predicting the turnout for Sunday's poll will be low.

At a referendum on EU entry, held in January last year, the turnout was 44 percent with 66 percent of Croatians casting a 'Yes' vote.

Analysts say that enthusiasm for EU membership is fading due to a difficult economic situation but also due to problems within the bloc.

But, they estimate that when the country of 4.2 million joins the 27-nation EU it would not be bringing the same financial problems as some other existing members.

"Croatia won't be a burden for the EU" because it has a stable banking sector and solid tourist industry, economic analyst Damir Novotny told AFP but warned that problems could surface "if negative trends continue".

A rather poor interest for Sunday's vote is also explained by lacklustre campaigns lacking in debates on EU-related issues.

There is also the fact that the deputies' mandate will be for one year only, until Europe-wide elections in 2014 to choose a new European Parliament for the following five years.

Pre-vote polling suggests the ruling Social Democrats party and its two junior coalition partners will take six of the 12 seats. The others would probably go to the opposition conservative HDZ party and the Labour Party, the survey showed.

Polling stations will open at 0500 GMT and close 12 hours later. First partial official results were expected around 2000 GMT.

Croatia will be only the second of six former Yugoslav republics to join the EU, nine years after Slovenia.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130413/croatia-elects-europe-parliament-mps-ahead-joining-eu