Monday, February 21, 2005

EU REFERENDUM in Spain (see yesterday's post too), the day after:
Turnout in Spain's referendum on the European Constitution yesterday was 42.34%, the lowest in a vote in Spain since democracy was restored. Only four of ten voters came to the polls. 76.67% voted yes and 17.29% voted no. Despite the very low participation, prime minister Rodriguez Zapatero announced that Spaniards had "made European history" with a "clear firm yes". Oppostion leader Mariano Rajoy said that Zapatero "wanted to be first into Europe" but "he went too fast", since the low turnout "is a failure" for Zapatero.
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.

The referendum was non-binding, with parliament set to have the final say.
Spaniards gave an overwhelming "yes" to the European Union's new constitution in a referendum on Sunday, but a low turnout may have dented EU hopes the vote would send a strong signal across the 25-nation bloc.

Supporters of the charter had hoped europhile Spain, the first member state to submit the constitution to a referendum, would set an example for waverers such as Britain and France.

[...] With both the ruling Socialists and the conservative Popular Party backing a "Yes" vote, the campaign failed to catch fire.

A muted "No" campaign came from regional parties demanding greater home rule and a left-wing group that wants more welfare commitments.

A third of voters opted for "no" in the Basque Country and 28 percent did so in Catalonia, results showed.
Deutsche Welle:
Spain Says Resounding Yes to EU Constitution
CNN'S Al Goodman couldn't file a more Zapatero-sympathetic report: only after several paragraphs about the 'success' he gets to mention the low turnout, and merely in passing.

The Guardian's leader:
Europe's new constitution - a copy of the 300-plus page document, to be precise - is to be launched into space in April in a stunt designed to flaunt the scale of the EU's ambitions. But it got a modest boost on earth yesterday in the estimated 79% to 16% endorsement by Spanish voters, though on a low turnout of only 41%.

The result of Spain's referendum on the constitutional treaty matters because the Spanish have traditionally been enthusiastic about Europe: membership in 1986 helped consolidate democracy after the Franco era as well as bringing generous subsidies from Brussels. Others holding referendums are less keen - and not only in chronically semi-detached Britain. Founding member France feels it has lost its place in a 25-strong club despite the advent of the euro. There is disenchantment in the once integrationist Netherlands. Newcomers such as Poland and the Czech Republic have doubts.

[...] Ignorance was a powerful factor for Spaniards. Just over a week ago nearly 90% confessed to knowing little to nothing about the constitution, despite a big advertising campaign and backing from fellow EU leaders for Jose Luis Zapatero, the socialist prime minister. Spain's centre-right opposition backed a yes vote, while the media overwhelmingly said "si". That is hard to imagine in the UK, where the tone is set by a largely europhobic media and opposition.
The Daily Telegraph's editorial is a must read:
It cannot be the beginning for which supporters of the EU Constitution had been hoping. Spain was the first country to hold a referendum precisely because it was thought likely to produce a thunderous "Yes". Spaniards have good reason to feel grateful to the EU, which they associate not only with subsidised motorways, but also with democratic stability. In the circumstances, "Yes" campaigners felt little need to discuss the constitution's contents. Instead, they argued that it was a great honour to be the first country to vote, that the eyes of all Europe were turned toward the Iberian peninsula and that it was the patriotic duty of every Spaniard to cast his ballot lest the country appear stand-offish. Yet the "Sí", when it came, was terse and reserved: fewer than one in three eligible voters supported the constitution.

What will be especially galling for Spanish Euro-enthusiasts is that there had been frenetic attempts to boost turnout. Footballers and celebrities were wheeled out to read some of the constitution's less turgid articles; advertising space was commandeered across the country; King Juan Carlos trooped dutifully to the polls in an attempt to jolly along his subjects. Indeed, the electoral commission was prompted to complain about the government's tendentious use of public money. Yet, in the event, most voters were unimpressed.

Euro-apologists will doubtless be quick with their explanations. Turnout was bound to be low, they will argue, when the result was a foregone conclusion. This is not what they were saying before the vote, incidentally; and, in any case, it is not true. When Spaniards voted for multi-party democracy in 1976, the outcome was even more certain, yet turnout was a healthy 78 per cent. When they voted to adopt their constitution two years later, it was 68 per cent. At last year's general election, it was 77 per cent. This time, for all the money thrown at the electorate, it seems to have been about 40 per cent.

The Times of London:
SPAIN became the first country to endorse the EU constitution in a national referendum yesterday — but not in the numbers required to give the document much-needed momentum ahead of nine other national votes.

Official results with almost all votes counted indicated that 77 per cent of voters who cast ballots approved the constitution in the first test of the document’s grassroots appeal. Seventeen per cent said no, with another 6 per cent of ballot papers spoiled.

That Europhile Spain would approve the constitution was never in doubt, but the key figure was the turnout. Only 42.3 per cent of Spain’s 34.6 million voters went to the polls. That was even less than the 45.9 per cent for the last European Parliament elections in June 2004 and the lowest for a referendum since Spain returned to democracy.

The turnout was enough to give the result respectability, but too low to claim that the constitution had received Spain’s overwhelming endorsement.

[...] Spain’s reputation as the most enthusiastically pro-European nation seemed to make it the logical choice to go first, but the constitution will face much stiffer opposition in Britain, Denmark, Poland and even France, where scepticism is growing.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were among the earliest voters. They hoped to encourage their subjects to follow suit and avoid giving a grudging image of a nation that has reaped huge economic dividends from EU membership.

But the majority of voters chose to register their indifference or annoyance at the referendum campaign by ignoring Señor Zapatero’s appeal for them to vote. The prime minister had staked his political reputation on a big turnout, racing to hold the first referendum and bent on returning Spain to the heart of European politics.

In recent weeks he has toured the country, importing the French president Jacques Chirac and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to support him and using sports stars and artistic personalities to boost the Yes campaign.

And the best part, which describes a real fact: "[Zapatero] has accused the Catholic Church, which said it was acceptable to abstain, and the PP of lacking enthusiasm, an opinion which was amplified by other socialists who accused the opposition of covertly urging their supporters to stay at home or vote No to “avenge” last March’s election defeat." A real fact, and a real whopper from Zapatero, because he has never accused to his parliamentary coalition partners (Catalan nationalists and the Communist Left) for their "No" campaign. Talk about double standards.

The International Herald Tribune:
Government officials said privately before the vote that a turnout above 35 percent would be acceptable. But academics said they found that claim unpersuasive.
And wrong: they only started saying that 35% would be acceptable at the very last moment: during most of the campaign, they showed around a poll by government-owned polling organization (yes, there's such a thing in Spain) predicting a 67% turnout. The IHT continues:
A more accurate gauge, they said, would be to compare the turnout with that for the June elections for representatives to the European Parliament. The figure for those elections was 45 percent, which was widely described as a disappointment by academics and editorial writers.
And as I said in my Spanish blog, the two elections can't be compared: one is held every four years, and this is "once in a lifetime" thing, as Zapatero repeated over and over in campaign rallies. Therefore to be a success, the turnout should have been much higher, not just equal, to EU parliament election.

Press Association:
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hailed the results – and the turnout.

“I feel very satisfied,” he said, adding that support for the constitution “has been very broad.”

“Today we Spaniards made European history because our vote is a message directed to the rest of Europe’s citizens, who were waiting eagerly for our response,” Zapatero said.
I want to smoke what he does.

The New York Times:
But some political experts say that decisions on the Constitution are likely to be determined by the internal politics of each nation, and that the lessons from Spain's experience may have little relevance elsewhere.

The Spanish campaign, for example, focused heavily on the economic development and political stability that have taken root here since the country joined the European Union in 1986. Much of the progress, the government argued, has been because of the more than $100 billion in financial assistance that has poured in from Brussels since then. "Europe has been good to Spain," read one of the government's slogans.

But this argument is unlikely to be exported to richer countries like Germany that have contributed much of the money that has allowed members like Spain and Portugal to modernize. And as the ratification process moves forward, each nation is expected to tailor its interpretation of the Constitution to suit domestic concerns.

In Britain, where critics complain that ratification would threaten British sovereignty, Prime Minister Tony Blair has emphasized that the Constitution preserves the autonomy of the member states.

In Spain, by contrast, Mr. Zapatero had to defend the Constitution against claims that it is too narrow in scope. "Those who oppose the Constitution here say they want more Europe or a different Europe," said José Ignacio Torreblanca, a political analyst at the Royal Elcano Institute, a research organization in Madrid that focuses on international affairs. Few Spaniards favor a weaker Constitution, he added.

The differing interpretations among member states reflect not only the diversity of their political climates but also the fact that the Constitution is a complicated document that lends itself to a variety of readings.

Rather than simply lay out broad principles underlying the proposed system of government, the document delves into the details of arcane policy matters, Mr. Torreblanca said. "Can you imagine the Constitution of the United States discussing a common fishing policy?" he asked.

And in the blogosphere, Juan Hervada:
Well, at last Spaniards had their vote on the European Constitution to be. How could I put it? Say that many more Iraqis defied the terrorists and went to vote on January 30 than Spaniards braved the rain to go to say whether they thought it a good idea to make into law the constitutional treaty.
Robert Duncan wonders if 40% is a "resounding" yes, and John Chappell is quite pleased with the results.

There is not a hope in hell that all - even a majority - of the people who voted in today's Spanish referendum actually understood what it was all about. This is why you generally speaking don't ask the average guy in the street to negotiate international treaties. Much as I'd prefer a qualified surgeon to be the one to poke around my insides with a sharp scalpel if I had to have an operation, I'd rather major decisions about international treaties were left to experienced statesmen and diplomats. Would you really have wanted Fred and Dora Ramsbottom from Harrogate to have been Britain's representatives at the Yalta Conference? Would you have wanted Bert Entwistle from Dudley sat alongside Woodrow Wilson at Versailles? So why are we asking for their opinions about our latest international agreement? The mind boggles...
Peaktalk notices to things worth of interest.

UPDATE. The Australian:
SPANISH voters yesterday became the first to endorse the proposed European Union constitution but a disappointingly low turnout raised fears about how the new treaty will fare when it is put to more sceptical voters in countries such as Britain.

Spain is one of the most enthusiastic members of the EU and the overwhelming yes vote of 77 per cent against 17 per cent for no was the sort of endorsement European leaders were hoping for ahead of referendums in at least nine more nations over the next 18 months.

The bad news for the 25 EU member governments -- which all support the treaty -- was that only 42 per cent of Spanish electors bothered to vote, a lacklustre turnout given Spain's strong traditional support for European integration and its usual turnout of 60-78 per cent in past national referendums.