Tuesday, February 01, 2005

SPAIN'S GOVERNMENT is pushing hard for the 'yes' vote on referendum the European constitution, to be held on February 20:
As one of the most enthusiastic supporters of a unified Europe, Spain is preparing to hold the first referendum on the European constitution in late February, aiming not only to assure its passage but also to set an example.

"Since the constitution is going to have some difficulties in certain countries, like in France and the United Kingdom, it is important that the first country to vote in a referendum send a strong message in support of Europe," said Javier Valenzuela, the spokesman for Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

[...] The constitution is all but assured of approval when the vote is held here on Feb. 20. But some critics say that the government's strategy may backfire if voter turnout is low, since it could be construed as evidence that voter apathy is high even in EU strongholds.

"The 'yes' is not in doubt," said one political analyst who is an ally of Zapatero's and who declined to be identified. "The question is the turnout. We all know that."

All but the most optimistic projections put voter turnout below 50 percent, and critics of the government's approach worry that a very low turnout, say under 30 percent, could raise questions about the vote's credibility.

In several recent polls, almost 90 percent of Spaniards said they were unfamiliar with the contents of the constitution. This reflects the situation across Europe: Only 11 percent of EU citizens feel they fully know the constitution's content, according to a poll published last week by the European Commission.

But government officials in Madrid say they are confident that a voter education drive that began in early January will bring the figure in Spain down.

Since Jan. 7, Zapatero's government has been engaged in a massive voter education campaign that has included the distribution of some six million copies of the constitution. It has already spent more than €6 million to educate voters via radio, television and newspapers, and plans to spend €4 million more before Friday. At that point, voter education will be succeeded by two weeks of political campaigning.
An 'education drive' consisting of things such as these, for example. Educational indeed. The campaign itself hasn't been informational, but pure propaganda. Basically leaflets, TV ads with celebrities reading one article of the constitution at a time. No debate, no discussion, not even on public TV. And the 6 million copies of the constitution were mutilated; all additional protocols, regulating crucial aspects of the financing of EU's enlargement, or the extra powers grantes to France, were missing (link in Spanish).

Oh, and one more thing:
One headache facing Zapatero is that even as he promotes the referendum on the EU constitution, he is in the awkward position of having simultaneously to oppose another one that is being called for by the Basque region of northern Spain.

The president of the region, Juan José Ibarretxe, is calling for a referendum to ask Basques if they agree with his declaration that the region has the right to break from Spain.
Incidentally, the Ibarretxe plan is being debated today in Madrid's parliament (you can find more posts about this secessionst plan using the search box above). A defeat is expected, since both the Socialist and the opposition PP, comprising approximately 85% of the seats, will vote against it. Ibarretxe has announced that he will go further with it anyway.