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.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs