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Spain's hard sell to win EU Yes


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#1    Talon

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 12:07 AM

Spain's hard sell to win EU Yes
By Elinor Shields
BBC News, Madrid  



Sunday's first vote on the European Union charter may be a big day for Brussels, but Juan Pablo has other plans.
"I'll be having a nice little drink," the Madrid newsagent says. "It doesn't interest me at all."

His stance is Spanish Prime Minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's big fear for what is the first of 10 polls in Europe over the next 18 months - abstention, not opposition.

Madrid hopes a strong Yes will send a strong message to other European voters - but some polls predict Spanish turnout will be 40-50%.

To help publicise the vote, the government has turned to stars and gimmicks to stave off the apathy that dogged recent European elections.

Fizz and football

To spread the word, football stars, media personalities and opera divas have been signed up to read sections of the treaty on television and radio.

Contestants on a Spanish version of reality TV show Big Brother were also asked to explain bits of the text to each other, reports say.

Football players have been walking out onto the pitches with banners encouraging people to vote.

Millions of free copies of the charter have been handed out at entrances to football stadiums and in Sunday newspapers.

And to add some fizz, Spain's Youth Council has been handing out a referendum drink.

The organisation has been distributing a quarter of a million cans of "Referendum Plus" at university campuses and cinemas.

The drink promises to energise people to vote - "thanks to its stimulating action against fatigue".

'No one explained'

The government has spent about 7m euros to promote the referendum - but it is not yet clear if the publicity will pay off.

Few Spaniards are believed to have read the text of the constitution's 448 articles and up to 90% say they know little of its content, according to a recent government poll.

Esperanza Ramos, 49, says she has read the document because it was handed out in the newspapers.

But another voter, Luis, told BBC News he might abstain because he feels ill-equipped to vote.

"Normally I would vote Yes for the European Union," the 77-year-old said.

"But we are not ready. For me it is a bit of a protest because no one explained it to us."

Lack of debate

Pundits say spreading - and selling - the message to a mass audience are two different things.

"It's very difficult," says Peru Egurbide, diplomatic correspondent for Spanish newspaper El Pais.

"Most people are not interested in European matters. They are listening to general arguments and will vote about general arguments."

Observers also blame the brief campaign period and widespread pro-European sentiment for the lack of debate on - and thus knowledge of - the treaty.

The prime minister is constitutionally forbidden from campaigning on either side, which means the government can publicise the vote, but cannot promote the issue.

Commentators say this rule has also limited debate - as well as prompting allegations of bias.

Spain is likely to vote Yes on Sunday, but for Europe analyst Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, the turnout is key.

"At stake in Spain is the capacity of the political class to convince people that Europe is important," he says.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4280531.stm


"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -Plato

#2    Talon

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 12:08 AM

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/39...m#unitedkingdom

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -Plato

#3    Talon

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 12:14 AM

Q&A: EU - myths and realities

The new European Union constitution was agreed in Brussels on Friday 18 June. It now has to be ratified by all 25 member states.
Paul Reynolds, BBC News Online world affairs correspondent, looks at some of the myths and realities of the constitution.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Will this lead to a United States of Europe like the USA?

No, not in the sense that the EU will become, through this agreement, a country like the United States. The EU constitution is a compromise between the demands of those who want more integration and those who want to preserve the rights of the nation states. The US constitution set up a unified country.

However, the EU constitution does extend centralisation. There will be more joint action to be decided by majority voting, in immigration and asylum policy for example. But in other areas, member states can still go their own way, in defence and foreign policy and tax, for example.

The EU will now have a president and a foreign minister in addition to its parliament, supreme court, civil service, flag and anthem. Is it not therefore a state?

No, though some say it sounds like one. These institutions have limited powers and some sound grander than they are. Take the "president", for example. The EU in fact already has three "presidents" - of the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament. What is new is that the Council Presidency, a post currently held by one member state for six months, will become a permanent position. But the powers of the president will be limited. He or she will be an EU spokesman but will not have excecutive powers like those of the US or French presidents.

Does a Foreign Minister mean a common foreign policy?

Not necessarily. It is true that the constitution does call for a common foreign policy and for all members to support it. However, the process of reaching such a policy is complex and each member state has the right to opt out. This was one of the British "red lines" in the negotiations. Each country therefore can have its own foreign policy, as happened over Iraq.

The aim though will be to have as much agreement as possible, as happened over the Middle East roadmap where all are agreed and it is a common EU policy.


There is already a "high representative" for foreign policy and although the new post will be bigger in that it will bring in the role of the external affairs commissioner, the foreign minister will be able to speak for the EU only to the extent that there is an agreed policy. He or she will not be able to make policy.

Does the constitution mean that this is a Europe of nation states?

No, despite claims that this enshrines the rights of the nation states. If that were wholly so, the EU would simply be a free trade agreement like the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. The constitution confirms that the EU is a halfway house. It has preserved some nation state rights but it confirms that the states have given up some of their rights - over the internal market, foreign trade, agriculture, fisheries and the environment for example. So they are not entirely sovereign, by choice. If they want to be entirely sovereign, they can leave the Union.

How much does the constitution really change things?

It will certainly lead to more qualified majority voting, within the the basic framework of Council, Commission and Parliament.


It also would allow those states who want to get closer together to do so, as most have done over the single currency, the euro.

Its opponents say that it goes far too far towards more collective action and that member states will be further swamped by the centre, eventually forcing those who opt out in various policies to join in. Its supporters say that it preserves a balance and there is a third group which says that it does not go far enough.



The constitution says that its law is supreme. Will the EU impose its law?

The procedures by which laws are passed have not fundamentally changed. Laws will still be proposed by the executive body, the Commission, and agreed jointly by member states in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. EU law is supreme in those areas where it has the right to legislate, but that has always been the case. If the procedure allows for a majority vote, it is possible, likely even, that a member state will be outvoted and in that case the EU law will be imposed on it. That already happnes. The constitution means that it might happen more often.


Will the Charter of Fundamental Rights interfere with national laws?

The Charter sets out a list of rights from the right to life to the right to strike. The UK government was worried that it might affect national industrial relations laws and says that it will not do so, but the Charter has yet to be tested in the courts.

This won't be the end of EU arguments, though?

No it won't. There will always be tension between those who want to go further and those who want to hold back. Some supporters of a federal Europe might forge ahead in some new areas like tax harmonisation and social security, as they have done with the single currency, the euro. The show goes on.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3825521.stm

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -Plato

#4    Talon

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 10:28 AM

Spanish vote on EU constitution
Spanish voters have begun to cast their votes in a referendum on the EU's first constitution - in the first of a series of polls across Europe.
Both Spain's governing party and the opposition back the constitution, and most voters are expected to say "Yes".

Before the campaigning ended on Friday, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero urged Spaniards to vote amid government fears of low turnout.

All 25 members must ratify the EU's constitution agreed in 2004.


More than 106,000 police were on duty to provide security around Spain during the poll.

Early voters in Madrid included King Juan Carlos, who cast his ballot at a school.

As he was about to slip it into a ballot box, Queen Sofia reminded him he first had to show his national identity card, news agency Efe reported.

The EU constitution is designed to streamline the EU's decision-making process after the bloc brought in 10 new members - mostly from Central and Eastern Europe - last May.

Nine EU members have definitely said they will hold referendums, with two more countries undecided. The remainder are ratifying the treaty by a parliamentary vote.

'Historic opportunity'

Nearly 35 million Spanish voters are eligible to cast their ballots.


The Socialist government of Mr Zapatero hopes a resounding "yes" vote will send a strong message to other European voters, the BBC's Elinor Shields in Madrid says.

But some polls predict Spanish turnout could be as low as 40%-50%, our correspondent says.

Mr Zapatero ended campaigning on Friday night by saying the constitution was as important for Spaniards as the one they approved for their own country in 1978, restoring democracy after General Francisco Franco's rule.


"Now we have another historic opportunity and must not squander it," Mr Zapatero told cheering supporters in the capital, Madrid.

"We cannot miss the opportunity to be protagonists and set the course for all Europeans with a massive 'yes'".

The government has even turned to celebrities and sports stars to stave off the apathy that dogged recent European elections.

Few Spaniards are believed to have read the text of the constitution's 448 articles and up to 90% say they know little of its content, according to a recent government poll, our correspondent says.

The referendum is non-binding, with parliament having the final say.

Bomb attacks

On Saturday, small explosive devices targeted the offices of Mr Zapatero's party and the opposition Popular Party in northern region of Asturias.


One bomb went off overnight, shattering a window at the headquarters of the Socialist Party but causing no injuries, officials said.

The other device was defused by police.

"No to fascist and imperialist constitutions," said a note left at the scene and written in the Asturian dialect, officials said.

Spain joined the EU in 1986, and has since benefited from generous EU subsidies.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4280841.stm


"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -Plato

#5    Talon

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Posted 20 February 2005 - 10:30 PM

Spain voters approve EU charter
A clear majority of Spaniards have voted in favour of the European Union constitution in a referendum.
With nine out of 10 votes counted, officials figures showed 77% of voters backed the charter.

Turnout was about 42% - a figure the opposition said was a failure.

It was the first of a series of European polls on the constitutional treaty, which must be ratified by all 25 EU member states to go into effect.

The deadline for ratification is November 2006.


Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told reporters: "Today has been a great day for all Europeans."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who called Mr Zapatero to congratulate him, welcomed "the very clear 'yes' which Spain has given to a Europe which moves forward and which makes a difference, a Europe united in diversity".

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "I am convinced that the results in Spain will have a positive impact in consultations that will take place in other EU member states in the coming months."
But the BBC's Katya Adler, in Madrid, says the turnout was embarrassingly low for the Spanish prime minister, who had promised to set a shining example for the rest of Europe.

Critics said the government's information campaign had been glitzy - with football and film stars calling for a Yes - but did not do enough to inform voters about the content of the charter.

In a recent poll, nine out of 10 Spaniards admitted they had little idea what the EU constitution is about.

Streamlining the EU

The referendum was non-binding, with parliament set to have the final say.

Voters were asked: "Do you approve the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe?"

Early voters in Madrid included King Juan Carlos, who cast his ballot at a school.


As he was about to slip his vote into a ballot box, Queen Sofia reminded him he first had to show his national identity card, news agency Efe reported.
The EU constitution is designed to streamline the EU's decision-making process after the bloc brought in 10 new members - mostly from central and eastern Europe - last May.

It provides for the first EU president and foreign minister and incorporates certain fundamental rights into EU law.

Nine EU members have definitely said they will hold referendums, with two more countries undecided. The remainder are ratifying the treaty by a parliamentary vote.

Spain joined the EU in 1986, and has since benefited from generous EU subsidies.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...ope/4280841.stm



"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." -Plato




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