Expatica news

Star-studded EU constitution campaign kicks off

7 January 2005

MADRID- Spanish celebrities kicked off a campaign to ensure the embryonic EU constitution passes its first popular test with a  yes vote in Spain’s February 20 referendum.

Barcelona football club’s Dutch coach Johann Cruyff is joining journalists, actors, singers and writers in adverts telling the electorate about the content of the text, which needs approval from all of the bloc’s 25 member states to become law.

Around a dozen states are holding a popular vote on the text 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.

The Spanish referendum will therefore be widely 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.

Although few Spaniards have voiced clear disapproval of the text, 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.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” will be just one key slogan participants will impart to Spanish viewers in the black and white TV ads which will show each one reading an article of the constitution, the text appearing below them on screen.

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

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos unveiled the campaign on Tuesday in Madrid as the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero seeks a clear vote in favour.

The latest Spanish opinion poll last month showed some three quarters of the electorate will turn out, with the yes camp standing on a projected  42.7 percent to just 4.1 percent for those opposed, although many remain undecided.

The TV campaign is designed to explain the text, adopted last October in Rome by the leaders of the 25 EU countries, to an electorate which admitted being unacquainted with the nitty gritty of the text.

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.

It is also for that reason that Zapatero will take part in a February 10 rally in Barcelona as Socialist Party leader rather than in his capacity as head of government.

Zapatero will join specially invited guests, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for the occasion.

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 is left unturned, five million free summaries of the EU text are to be distributed nationwide, some of them with Sunday’s newspapers on 16 January.

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

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news