20/02/2005 - D+30
On 20th February next the Spanish will be the first Europeans to vote by referendum on the European Constitution. Voters will have to answer a simple question: "Do you approve the draft treaty that establishes the Constitution for Europe?" This referendum is only a consultation, since the ratification of the European text must be the subject of a vote by the two Chambers of Parliament that will take place in the coming months.
This first popular consultation is a decisive one for Europe as well as for the Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (PSOE), a major player in "the return to Europe movement" in Spain in the wake of the country's detachment from the Union during the Aznar period (1996-2004). "On that day the whole of Europe will have its eyes riveted on Spain. I am convinced that the Spanish people will provide an example of democratic responsibility. Spain will spearhead the ratification process and will encourage the other States," declared the Prime Minister recently; in this referendum he sees a "unique historic opportunity to strengthen the Spanish citizen's involvement in Europe."
According to a recent opinion poll undertaken by the Centre for Sociological Investigations (CIS) and the Elcano Institute, 42% of the Spanish will vote "yes" to the referendum, less than one in ten (9%) say they will vote "no" and around 15% say they intend to vote blank or abstain. Slightly more than one third of those interviewed are undecided (38%). Polls also show that three quarters of the Spanish believe that the Constitution comprises "a step forwards in the process of European integration" (75%) and that it "guarantees peace and prosperity in Europe" (67%). The subjects are, in the opinion of many Spanish, not simply words, since the older generation remembers that just thirty years ago they were still denied justice, freedom of expression and prosperity. "We were not present when Europe was created. We did not count on it and it could not count on us because at that time we could count on no one exterior to our borders. We know how we were and we imagine how we would be if we had not entered the Union in 1986. In many countries with whom we share the Union today our countrymen, in their flight from authoritarianism and intolerance, found refuge and many others found the means to survive which they were deprived of here," declared the Prime Minister. Only one quarter of those interviewed believe that the European Constitution "strengthens Financial Europe in the face of Social Europe."
Since the "yes" vote is predicted to win the only unknown lies in the margin of victory and the participation rate. "The simple adoption of the Constitution will not suffice – it must be accepted by the Spanish, that public opinion sees progress in it," declared the former President of the Convention for the future of Europe, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. "The participation rate, that is, the interest that the Spanish take in the project will be a key indicator," he added. The mobilisation of the electorate comprises the Prime Minister's priority, setting the target participation rate of at least 60%. Between 1989 and 1999, more and more Spanish turned out to vote in the European elections with the participation rate increasing from 46% in 1989 to 63% ten years later. Last June however, only 45% of the electorate went to ballot to elect their MEP's, slightly lower than the Community average.
The procedure: referendum and Parliamentary ratification
The referendum on the European Constitution is the second of its kind in democratic Spain in after the one on Spain remaining in NATO in 1986 (53.09% to remain and 40.3% against). At the end of the 1970's the country had experienced two previous national referenda on its return to democracy after a long era of dictatorship led by the General Francisco Franco (1936-1975): the first took place on 15th December 1976 on the adoption of a political reform enabling the democratisation of Spain (94.45% in favour and 2.57% against) and the other on 6th December 1978 on the adoption of the Spanish Constitution (88.54% in favour and 7.89% against).
Just a few months ago the Popular Party (PP) and the United Left (IU) asked the government to precede the referendum by an examination of the compatibility of the Spanish and European Constitutions. Both parties argued that Fundamental Spanish Law was incompatible with articles I-6, II-111 and II-112 in the European text. The Popular Party was especially interested in this procedure since any incompatibility between the two texts made it necessary to modify the Spanish Constitution according to a complicated procedure involving the dissolution of the two Chambers of Parliament that would inevitably lead to general elections.
Although article 93 of the Fundamental Spanish Law stipulates that "an organic law may authorise the ratification of treaties granting an organisation or an international the power to execute the competence that are a result of the Constitution," it does not allow however the infringement or modification of this text; article 95 even says that "the ratification of an international treaty that includes clauses contrary to the constitution demands prior modification of the latter." It was therefore to everyone's surprise that the Spanish Constitutional Court decreed, by nine votes out of twelve, that it saw no contradiction between the European treaty and the Kingdom's Fundamental Law since the measures in article 93 of the latter enabled, in its opinion, the inclusion of the treaty signed in Rome by the twenty-five member States on 29th October 2004.
In spite of its importance for the European Union and for Spain we should remember that this referendum is simply a consultation, since the European Constitution must ultimately be ratified by both Chambers of Parliament (Cortes Generales): the Senate and the Congress of Representatives. The parliamentary ratification should be signed before the summer.
The Spanish government granted a subsidy of nine million euros to all the political parties represented in Parliament independent of their position on the ratification of the European Constitution. Each party received 8, 571 euros per MP and 0.24 cents per vote for one of its candidates during the general and senatorial elections on 14th March last.
The Electoral Campaign
The official campaign for the referendum started on 13th January after permission to call the referendum was given by Parliament. Most of the political parties are in favour of adopting the European Constitution: the Socialist Party, that made its return to power the symbol of Spain's return to Europe's fold; former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar's party, the Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy; the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Catalan Nationalists, Convergencia i Uunio (CiU), even those both of these parties criticise the text for not taking "national regional identity" sufficiently into account. However the United Left (IU) and the Catalans of Esquerra republicana de Catalunya (ERC) have said they are against the ratification of the Constitution.
Spanish legislation makes it obligatory for the government to be totally unbiased before a referendum. Hence it may only encourage voters to go to ballot without influencing their choice. So in his capacity as head of the PSOE José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is campaigning at present in favour of saying "yes" to the Constitution. Following the appeals made by the parties in favour of rejecting the Constitution the Spanish Electoral Commission asked the PSOE leader to delete the slogan "First in Europe" from his referendum campaign on 20th January, believing that this was an infringement of the obligation to be unbiased imposed on the government by the electoral law.
By organising Seminars on the European Constitution on 13th and 14th November last the Prime Minister announced the start of events working towards the adoption of the European text. Since then various events have been organised and will continue each weekend in each of the seventeen Spanish regions. A marathon, concerts and shows are to be organised in favour of the Constitution in fourteen of the country's towns with artists like the singer Miguel Rios or the dancer Maria Pages, sports celebrities such as the cyclist Miguel Indurain or the horseman Rafael Soto and other public personalities such as the radio journalists Luis del Olmo and Iñaki Gabilondo ; many copies of the European Constitution will be distributed free of charge across the country for the entire duration of the electoral campaign. On Sunday 16th January the daily newspapers (El Pais, El Mundo, ABC and La Razon) offered a copy of the European text to each of their readers. A European Day will be organised in the country's high schools.
Many sports celebrities have been called upon during the electoral campaign: Johan Cruyff, the former Dutch footballer and former trainer of Barcelona FC, Emilio Butragueno, former captain of the Spanish team and present president of Real Madrid as well as players who are still playing such as Zinedine Zidane. During the entire month of January the stadium of football clubs in the first and second divisions will be the scene of a campaign that aims to inform the Spanish about the European Constitution. Hence players will be called on to the field bearing a notice appealing to the public to go and vote. On Sunday 9th January during a derby in Madrid, Real Madrid-Atletico, twenty-five children, one for each Member State in the European Union came onto the field each bearing a flag and distributed copies of the Constitution. On entering the Vicente Calderon Stadium spectators discovered information leaflets on the European text on the terraces.
A civic platform for Europe chaired by author Antonio Gala, was also the source of many in initiatives. His logo, a hand held out to the stars of the European Union headed by the phrase « We are moving forwards with Europe » was offered to every company, administration, association and union so that they would use it on their forms, tickets and even their letters.
Although the victory of the vote in favour seems to be guaranteed the government has not hesitated in mobilising a number of celebrities, or in meeting the Spanish in schools, football fields, or in using brochures, concerts, sports' and citizens' meetings to draw their attention to the European debate on the Constitution. In fact the Prime Minister has made this referendum into a test for Spain as well as for Europe. "When on 20th February next citizens go to ballot they will hold their voting slip, an arm of massive construction for a great project, the European Constitution," he declared on 19th January last in the first interview he had given on a state TV channel TVE, since he came to office in March 2004. The Prime Minister would like to turn the "yes" vote by his people to the European text into a frank and overwhelming vote in favour, witnessing the Spanish people's commitment to Europe – it will be their "contribution to a process of European construction which we are so much indebted to." The next four weeks will be decisive in order for a national victory to become a true European success.