Monday, February 21, 2005

Spain voters approve EU charter

Spaniards yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a constitution for the European Union, but the low turnout was likely to send worrying signals to nine other member states that will be submitting the EU charter to referendums over the next 18 months. With 90 per cent of the ballot counted, 77 per cent voted Yes, according to official figures. About 17 per cent of voters rejected the treaty. However, participation was 42.4 per cent, the lowest electoral turnout since the restoration of democracy in 1978, and an indication of the Spanish government's failure to ignite interest in the referendum campaign. The Basque region registered turnout of only 35 per cent, the lowest in the country. (Financial Times)

Spain has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the European Union since it became a member in 1986. Nearly 60 percent of Spaniards identify themselves as European as well as Spanish, according to a study by the Royal Elcano Institute, a research organization in Madrid that focuses on foreign affairs. In the rest of the Union, by contrast, only about 45 percent of the people put their European identity on par with their nationality. The broad support for the EU reflects a common belief in Spain that the country's recent economic development is rooted to a large degree in the decision to join the Union in 1986. (International Herald Tribune)

Turnout was 42.4 percent, short of the already low 45.9 percent turnout in elections to the European Parliament in June. The opposition Popular Party said turnout was the second lowest among 29 referendums held in the European Union and blamed Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "You have to acknowledge reality. ... When a lot more Spaniards don't vote than do, it's a failure for the person who called the referendum and that was the Prime Minister," said Angel Acebes, number two in the Popular Party. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, a Spanish Socialist, said the turnout was "more than acceptable" and showed Spaniards realised their future lay with Europe. (Reuters)

All 25 EU countries must ratify the constitution for it to take effect. Three have already done so through parliamentary votes, and Spain is the first of 10 to hold a referendum. Both of Spain's major parties back the charter, and its approval was expected. No date has been set for parliament to vote on the constitution. The document approved by EU ministers in October is designed to streamline decision-making as the bloc expands eastward, making it more efficient and giving it global clout on par with its economic might. (Guardian)

Voters in some nations planning referendums are less enthusiastic about the EU treaty, which gives the bloc a permanent president and strengthens the European Parliament. Rejection in any one country may kill the constitution. ``The Danish and French referenda will be the defining tests,'' said Marco Incerti, a fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Should those countries vote in favor, ``we may have a smooth ride until the U.K. referendum in 2006.'' (Bloomberg)

Spaniards gave a strong seal of approval to the new European constitution in a Sunday referendum, with four in five of those casting ballots backing the text, exit polls showed. More than 14 million people voted, lifting participation to 40-42 percent of the electorate, proving wrong analysts' forecasts which had feared a showing of below 40 percent. Around 11 million voted in favor of the constitution, which is designed to facilitate decision-making in the expanding European Union and which was approved by EU government leaders last year. (Deutsche Welle)

Background: "The European Union is the framework for economic and political co-operation between 25 European countries. It began as a post-war initiative between six countries pooling control over coal and steel to guarantee a more peaceful future for Europe. But it now manages co-operation on issues as wide-ranging as the environment, transport and employment, and wields increasing influence in defence and foreign policy. EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lituania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom" (BBC)
The European Constitution is one more step towards a stronger form of political union for EU member states. One shortcoming of the EU is its perceived unefficiency / bureaucracy. The constitution has the role to make it more efficient for decision-making.
The European Union is the first world economic power with a GDP worth US$12.5 trillion.


Financial Times, UK:
International Herald Tribune, France:, UK:
Guardian, UK:,1280,-4814389,00.html
Deutsche Welle, Germany:,1564,1495316,00.html


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