13/02/2005 - D-7
The electoral campaign for the referendum on the European Constitution officially started in Spain on 4th February last. It has been going on for two weeks now.
34,687,888 voters have been called to ballot on 20th February to vote on the ratification of the European text. In spite of its importance for the Union – the Spanish are the first Europeans to vote by referendum on the text – this referendum is purely consultative since the Constitution has to be ratified by both Chambers of Parliament (Cortes Generales). Parliamentary ratification might be undertaken by the summer. According to electoral law the budget dedicated to the organisation of the referendum may not exceed 7 million euros.
Amongst the parties represented in Parliament, the Socialist Party (PSOE), the Popular Party (PP), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Convergencia i Unio (CiU), and the Canary Isles Coalition (CC) said they are in favour of ratification of the European Constitution. In addition to this, two large central Spanish Unions, the General Union of Works (UGT) and the Confederation of Workers' Commission (CCOO), have also called to vote « yes » on 20th February.
However the United Left (IU), Esquerra republicana de Catalunyua (ERC), the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG), Nafarroa Bai (Na Bai, a nationalist party from Navarre), and Eusko have declared they are against ratification. Two thirds of these parties' supporters opposed to the ratification of the European Constitution (65%) have said however that they will not follow the voting advice of these parties.
The major Catalan party, Convergencia i Unio (CiU) hesitated for a long time before refusing to join the "no" camp, comprising parties with whom they do not share any political affinity. The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), in power in Barcelona since the last regional elections on 16th November 2003 is also in favour of the ratification of the European Constitution. The United Left criticise the European text for its inadequacies in terms of social measures whilst the regional parties – Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the Galician National Bloc, Nafarroa Bai, Eusko Alkartasuna and the Aragon Junta – condemn the fact that the European Constitution does not include Catalan and Basque as official languages and criticises it for not respecting regional aspects.
Batasuna, the banned party, that is considered the political branch of the terrorist organisation ETA, expressed its view via Arnaldo Otegi, who called on the Basques to vote ‘no' to the ratification of the Constitution believing that this does not serve their cause for independence. "The European Constitution will be used as a legal arm to deny Basques their power of decision," maintained Arnaldo Otegi who said he was in favour of a "Europe of People".
The Socialist Party has organised around 700 hundred pre-electoral meetings, Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has taken part in ten of them. "We have moved forwards with Europe and we shall make more progress if we approve the draft European Constitution. A strong, united Europe is what is best for a strong, united Spain," maintained the Prime Minister who also warned the Spanish that "the ‘no' vote from a Member State would give rise to a crisis and made paralysis a likelihood." On 7th February last José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero received José Manuel Barroso at the University of Alcada de Henares. The Prime Minister delivered a medal to the President of the European Commission for his contribution to the writing of the Constitution. "The National Constitution of 1978 gave Spain a long period of peace, democracy, stability, pluralism and prosperity. The European Constitution is a natural extension of fundamental Spanish Law and a real tool for peace," he declared.
On 11th February the Prime Minister received the President of the Republic of France, Jacques Chirac, at the Congress Hall of Barcelona for a meeting in favour of the "yes" vote to the Constitution which was qualified as a "European civic act". German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who were both suffering from ‘flu, were unable to accept their invitation to take part in this great European rally. "The vote on the Constitution is an acknowledgement of the successes achieved until now but it is also a gesture of hope," maintained José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "No one can question the fact that we are better off in the European Union," he added. At his side Jacques Chirac invited the Spanish, "to show Europe the way in a spectacular manner by voting "yes" en masse."
"The process of constructing Europe has been a success for the continent as well as for Spain and the Constitution will enable the development of a model of a highly competitive social market economy," declared Mariano Rajoy the leader of the main opposition movement, the Popular Party, who at the Cortes Generales on 8th February called on the Spanish to "vote unreservedly ‘yes', unhesitatingly and unconditionally, on 20th February". "The European Constitution is the guarantee of a democratic State, of the respect of legality since it defines Europe as a union of States and citizens, a definition that closes the door on hysterical desires for independence," added the opposition leader. The Popular Party has held 500 public meetings and Mariano Rajoy has attended fifteen of them. The latter has however avoided all contact with the Prime Minister during the campaign.
After Angel Acebes, the Secretary General of the conservative movement had pointed out that the government could not "lead both a critical and aggressive campaign against the Popular Party and ask this party's electorate to vote ‘yes'", Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, the government's Vice President asked the Popular Party for "greater clarity" on its involvement in the electoral campaign. She said that she would like the leaders of the main opposition movement "not to confuse Spain's internal affairs with a theme that is beyond us all, Europe." "This is about Europe" is incidentally the slogan chosen by the Socialist Party.
Under the banner of the Party of the European Left, all the members of which are against the European Constitution, the Communist Party, the United Left and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya for their part held a meeting in favour of the ‘no' vote on 29th January. The representatives of three European parties–Marie-George Buffet, National Secretary of the French Communist Party, Wolfgang Gehrke, leader of the German Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) and Fausto Bertinotti, Secretary General of the Italian Renewal (RC)- took part in this event. "We are obviously not against Europe, but against a European family that is founded on liberalism and does not take citizens' rights into account," declared the leader of the United Left, Gaspar Llamazares.
Finally the Spanish Church, for the first time in its history, legitimised electoral abstention in the referendum on 20th February. "The "yes', the ‘no' the blank vote and abstention, are all possible, legitimate options," announced a press release from the Episcopal Conference. Although the Church has pointed out that the referendum is merely consultative a high abstention rate is the government's greatest fear. On 9th February the President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said that he would be "satisfied if the participation rate rose beyond 40% on 20th February."
According to the latest opinion polls undertaken between 19th and 24th January by the Centre for Sociological Investigations, published on 10th February more than half of the Spanish (51.2%) say that are going to vote in favour of ratifying the European Constitution, only 5.7% intend to vote "no". 16% of interviewees think they will abstain, 4.6% will vote blank and two Spanish in ten (20%) are still undecided. The number of voters in favour of the Constitution has risen by 8.5 points since the last survey undertaken by the same institute in December. Although 60% of those interviewed said they knew little or very little about the European Constitution, two thirds of the Spanish (65%) believe however that is "preferable in Spanish interests" for the Constitution to be approved.