Portugal/Spain: Governments set to hold referenda on the EU Constitution



On 23 June 2004, the Prime Ministers of Portugal and Spain announced that they would call referenda to allow citizens to vote on the EU Constitution. The Portuguese minister for foreign affairs, Teresa Gouveia, officially told parliament that the Partido Social Democrata (PSD, Social Democratic Party) - Centro Democratico Social/Partido Popular (CDS/PP, Social Democratic Centre/Popular Party) centre-right coalition government planned to call a referendum on the contents of the EU Constitution approved in Brussels last Friday, 18 June 2004. José Manuel Durão Barroso, the prime minister, had previously announced that: "Our idea is to present, at the start of the next legislature, a date and a proposal for a referendum, which should take place towards the start of 2005".

The initiative was described as a means to promote "a real debate" on European issues in Portugal. The Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio expressed his support for the initiative, and for the referendum to be preceded by a "great national debate", especially in view of the fact that during the recent European election campaign "little relevance was given to the debates over Europe, whereas more [space] was given to rumours and insults".

In Spain, it was the President of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) minority government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who told parliament of the government's intention to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution. After informing parliament of the negotiations and work conducted in the European Council on 17 and 18 June 2004 which led to the agreement on the EU Constitution, described by Zapatero as providing the EU with "a soul" and as a cause for celebration, he announced his intention to "call a referendum", as soon as possible, "so that the whole of the citizenry may express its position on the new constitutional text". Zapatero noted that the deadline for the ratification of the EU Constitution is 1 November 2006, although he would like Spain to be "among the first countries to ratify the new treaty", adding that participation by the public is an "indispensable requirement, when it is a matter of accepting the foundations on which the rules for collective coexistence for Europeans, and for the recognition of our rights and fundamental freedoms, will be based".

Both in Spain and Portugal, the governments strongly support the new EU Constitution, and the main opposition parties [the Partido Popular (PP, Popular Party) in Spain, and the Partido Socialista (PS, Socialist Party) in Portugal] are also willing to campaign for a "Yes" vote in support of the recently approved Constitution. Nonetheless, some smaller parties seem set to campaign for a "No" vote; in Portugal, the Bloco de Esquerda (United Left) MP Luís Fazenda described the EU constitution as a "bible of liberalism" and the Partido Comunista (PCP, Communist Party) also expressed doubts; in Spain, the only small party to guarantee its support for the EU Constitution was Coalición Canaria (CC, Canary Islands Coalition), whereas Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) leader Gaspar Llamazares said that the text "leaves the European social and economic model in pieces".

El Público, 24.6.2004; El País, 24.6.2004

Intervention by the president of the government, Don José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in the parliament plenary session to provide information on the development and conclusions of the European Council in Brussels, Madrid, 23.6.2004; full-text (in Spanish) available on: www.la-moncloa.es

see also: Statewatch's Observatory on the EU Constitution


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