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Croatian voters back bid to join European Union

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:58 PM EST, Sun January 22, 2012
A Croatian girl casts her mother's ballot Sunday during the country's bid to join the European Union.
A Croatian girl casts her mother's ballot Sunday during the country's bid to join the European Union.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A majority of Croatians vote in support of the nation's entry into the European Union
  • Croatian leaders signed an accession treaty in December to join the EU
  • Croatia would become the alliance's 28th member state

(CNN) -- Croatians voted Sunday in support of their country's bid to join the European Union, paving the way for the southern European nation to become the alliance's 28th member.

According to official results, posted on a government website, about 66% of voters backed Croatia's entry into the EU and 33% sided against the move. Turnout was about 44%.

Already a member of NATO, Croatia is now poised to join an EU bloc that includes its neighbors Slovenia and Hungary. It is one of five nations listed as "candidate countries" on the European Union's website.

Last December, Croatian leaders signed an accession treaty paving the way for the nation's entry.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called that signing "an outstanding moment for the European Union -- and for Croatia."

"Today, we all acknowledge the hard work Croatia has done and its crowning success," Barroso said in a December 9 statement. "Croatia is the best proof of how strong and successful the transformative power of our enlargement policy can be."

Years after initiating its bid, Croatia is on pace to "rightly join our union" on July 1, 2013, the European Commission president said.

In that statement, Barroso alluded to the economic crisis affecting much of the eurozone, including bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But he insisted that these issues should not halt the European Union's expansion.

"Enlargement, provided that all the relevant conditions are met, will ... continue to serve as an anchor of stability, a driver of democracy and the rule of law," he said. "We should therefore not let the economic crisis overshadow this very important European policy."

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