Yesterday José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, President of Spain, announced that he would put the draft European Constitution to the Spanish people in a referendum to be held as soon as possible. In an appearance before Parliament called so that Zapatero could explain the terms of the constitution and its implications for Spain, the Spanish President said that he would urge his own party and all other political parties to work together to encourage voters to participate in the referendum.
Zapatero said “This government thinks it is in Spain’s interests to be one of the first countries to ratify the new Union Treaty; we want to be among the first to act in this new crucial stage of European integration and by showing our example help to combat any possible scepticism or attempt to go backwards”
The general lack of interest shown by an election-weary Spanish electorate in the European elections was actually underlined by the low attendance of MPs during yesterday’s parliamentary debate.
Television images showed there to be almost as many empty seats as occupied ones. Zapatero referred to the possibility of very few voters taking part in the referendum: “Some people will say that it is risky to hold a referendum given the low participation in the last elections“, but he said that it was important to try and fight voter apathy with arguments and said they must trust the Spanish people’s judgement.
Zapatero intends to meet with all political parties to decide on a date for the referendum and to agree on the text of the question to be put to the Spanish electorate but yesterday’s debate illustrated the fact that he will find it difficult to achieve consensus. Apart from the PP and Canary Islands party (Coalición Canaria), all the other parties were either ambiguous or critical of the European constitution.
The ERC Catalan republican party spokesman announced his party’s intention to campaign for a “No” to the proposed constitution, because the draft text doesn’t include Catalan as an official European Union language. The PNV Basque nationalist party parliamentary spokesman was also critical of the treaty, saying it came far short of what his party had hoped for the Basque country.
The referendum is expected to be held in the next 6-12 months.