UK celebrities to take Spanish lead on EU poll

18th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

18 February 2005, SEVILLE-Celebrities and footballers might be used to attract voters if the UK ever stages a referendum on the proposed European Constitution.

18 February 2005

SEVILLE-Celebrities and footballers might be used to attract voters if the UK ever stages a referendum on the proposed European Constitution.

Barcelona football club's Dutch coach Johann Cruyff has joined journalists, actors, singers and writers in adverts telling the Spanish electorate about the content of the European Constitution, which needs approval from all 25 EU member states to become law.

Now if Britain ever stages a similar poll, election organisers admit similar tactics could be used to explain the text to sceptical UK voters.

Kate Sullivan, election coordinator for UK Electoral Commission, said monitors had been interested how the Spanish government has used a star-studded line-up to ensure the embryonic EU constitution passes its first popular test with a 'yes' vote in Sunday's referendum.

Sullivan said: "We have been very interested in how footballers have been used to attract voters here.

"Obviously, different things work in different countries but if the UK has a vote on the Constitution, anything is a possibility. It has certainly got people interested."

Representatives from the UK Electoral Commission were visiting Seville on Friday and Madrid this weekend to monitor how Spain conducts the poll.

To achieve a sporting balance in Spain, a country obsessed with football, Real Madrid's vice-chairman Emilio Butragueno has taken part from the world of soccer, along with Cruyff, who masterminded Barcelona's only European Cup triumph in 1992.

Daily adverts on the television, in newspapers and on the radio in Spain have urged voters to back the fledgling European Constitution.

Spanish legislation forbids the government itself taking an overtly partisan line in a referendum, hence the idea to canvass celebrities to put the message across.

Sullivan said she was not so sure if the Spanish campaign to give out cans of the fizzy 'energy' drink called Referendum Plus would work in the UK.

A bill on whether to hold a referendum in the UK is currently going through the British parliament, but there is no sign when or if it may be passed.

UK Electoral Commission representatives are also in Spain to encourage British expats to register to vote in the UK's forthcoming election, which is widely expected to be on 5 May.

UK voters, who have been on the electoral register in the past 15 years, must register their postal vote by 11 March.

Already, Sullivan said, they have been encouraged by the response from British expats around the world.

Up to 15,000 have registered so far through the UK Commission website.

Sullivan said: "We want people to take advantage of their rights as citizens."

Around a dozen states are holding a popular vote on the European Constitution with the remainder leaving the approval to parliament.

Analysts say the text could survive a small state voting down the proposal, but a vote against by a larger state, such as Spain, could scupper the entire project.

Latest polls have said a majority of Spanish voters will back the 'yes' campaign.

Spain has been viewed as a weather vane for countries who take the referendum route, such as France, which is due to hold its poll by the summer.

Opinion polls show a substantial portion of the French and German electorates have grave doubts.

In Britain, due to vote on the issue by 2006, polls regularly show the no camp could carry the day.

Assuming a vote in favour Spain's parliament would then have to ratify the outcome.

Spain has been a major beneficiary of EU development aid since its accession along with neighbouring Portugal in 1986 and, largely as a result, enthusiasm for the Union remains high.

The main opposition conservative Popular Party led by Mariano Rajoy also backs the constitution, but some regional nationalist groups, particularly in the eastern region of Catalonia, as well as the hard left United Left, oppose it.

The treaty aims to speed up decision-making in the bloc after it was enlarged to 25 nations in May.

In November, Lithuania became the first country in the 25-member bloc to ratify the EU constitution, following a parliamentary vote.

The Spanish government's chief worry is that many voters may abstain as Madrid looks to send out as strong a signal as possible of Spain's European credentials.

To ensure no stone was left unturned, five million free summaries of the EU text were distributed nationwide, some of them in newspapers.

Spanish schoolchildren were also be treated to a Europe Day prior to the vote as they too learn about their country's EU future.

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[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news


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