News

    Spain Prepares to Vote on New EU Constitution

    Lisa Bryant

    Spain is holding the European Union's first referendum on the new EU constitution. Leaders from the 25-member block signed the charter last October, but it needs to be approved by parliamentary vote or referendum in each country to go into effect. While the referendum is expected to pass, Spaniards - like many other Europeans - appear far from enthusiastic about their new constitution.

    Few citizens should feel more connected to the European Union than the residents of this medieval town of cobblestone streets and Gothic churches. For centuries, millions of Christian pilgrims have flocked to Santiago de Compostela, located in Spain's rugged, northwestern province of Galicia, where the bones of St. James the Apostle are said to lie.

    But ask 42-year-old Manola Reguero, out walking her dog one chilly night, if she plans to vote Sunday - when Spain holds a referendum on the new European constitution - and you may be surprised by her answer.

    Mrs. Reguero says she won't be voting on the charter because she really doesn't know what its about. Its a complicated document, she says, and Spaniards like herself haven't had the time to learn about it.

    Polls and news reports suggest Mrs. Regueros is hardly the only Spaniard who feels this way. One recent survey found the vast majority of Spanish citizens had no idea about the constitution, despite a voter education campaign launched by Spain's Socialist government in January.

    In principle, the charter needs to be approved by all EU member states to go into effect. Ten of the 25 members, representing half of the block's population, are expected to hold referenda. The rest are expected to put the document to a parliamentary vote.

    In either case, a single no vote - especially by powerful European  countries like France and Germany - could scuttle the charter.

    The leftist government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been handing out copies of the constitution to Spaniards, and holding public debates on the charter. And last week, Mr. Zapatero teamed up with French President Jacques Chirac to plug for the new charter during a meeting in Barcelona.

    The government's task should be easy. Some $100 billion in EU assistance to Spain over nearly two decades has help transform the country into a regional economic star. And in fact, polls suggest Spaniards are expected to approve the constitution on Sunday.

    But that doesn't make them enthusiastic about the new treaty or about the European Union as a whole. Politicians fear a high abstention rate. And several smaller political parties are urging voters to reject the constitution.

    That includes Galicia's regional political party, the Bloque Nacionalista Galego, known as the Benega. Francisco Jorquera Caselas, the party's executive coordinator, explains why.

    Mr. Jorquera says the Benega agrees with the idea of a more democratic and social Europe. But he says the European constitution doesn't go in this direction. Rather, he says, it serves to benefit big company interests, at the expense of ordinary European citizens.

    Mr. Jorquera also argues Galicia has paid a steep price for Spain's membership in the European Union. Dairy farmers in this rural region must reduce their milk production, because of EU quotas. And while the EU called for the phasing out of dangerous single-hulled tankers after a devastating oil spill off Galicias shores two years ago, he says the regions shipbuilding industry has not benefited from a boom in constructing safer double-hulled tankers.

    Experts note Mr. Jorqueras criticism is echoed in other parts of Europe. So is Spanish apathy about the EU constitution. Sebastian Kurpas is a research fellow at the Center for European Policy studies in Brussels.

    "Spain is not the only country that will have this problem in the course of the upcoming referendum," he said. "Other countries will see the same. People just don't know enough about this treaty and about this constitutional text. It is clearly complex and as such it really needs to be broken down for the general population."

    In neighboring France, where a referendum on the constitution is expected in June, a large block of the opposition Socialist party opposed the charter during an internal vote last year. And earlier this month, Frances largest trade union, the General Labor Confederation (CGT), bucked its leader by voting to oppose the treaty.

    Polls also show waning French support for the constitution, although a majority still indicate they will vote for it.

    Euro-skeptic Britain may present an even tougher challenge. So may Denmark, expected to hold a referendum later this year.

    Moreover, years of low voter turnout during European Parliamentary elections across the European Union once again underscore public disinterest in what is happening in Brussels.

    Still, not everybody is grumbling. The constitution has already sailed through parliaments in Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia.

    And in Santiago de Compostela, 65-year-old Ramon Suarez is one Spaniard who does not mind describing himself as an EU fan.

    Mr. Suarez says he's read bits and pieces of the new constitution. It sounds like a good thing, he says. And he says hell be voting for it on Sunday.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora