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EU Referendum round-up

Posted by Richard Wednesday, June 23, 2004

In the wake of the Brussels agreement last Friday, member states are beginning to firm up on their ratification plans.

Firmly on the fence is the Italian government, with deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini saying that he expects the constitution to be ratified by the parliament, although he has also stated that, if a referendum is decided upon, he "won't oppose it". He simply does not think it is "a major issue" and even if the referendum did take place and give an negative outcome, "it won't stop the process", he told the Italian news agency AGI.

Also on the fence is France’s Chirac who, despite an election commitment to a referendum, is still only saying "maybe", with a date sometime in the Spring of 2005 pencilled in. Giscard believes that "things do seem to be pointing in the direction of a referendum".

The Greek government, however, has set its face against a referendum. Secretary of State for European Affairs Iannis Valynakis said Wednesday, rejected calls from opposition socialists, saying that "Around half the member states of the EU will ratify the constitution in their parliaments, which is also our tradition here in Greece," A parliamentary vote, said Valynakis, "is no less democratic then a referendum."

Spain, on the other hand, has decided to hold a referendum, "as quickly as possible," according to prime minister Zapatero. "The government has the intention of holding a referendum so that all the citizens can say what they think of the European constitution", he told his parliament. I suspect though, that if that was true (allowing all citizens to say what they think) it would have to be a very big ballot paper.

Portugal has already begun the steps needed to hold a referendum, with prime minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso deciding to "unleash the mechanisms" for organising one. He would announce the date during the autumn session of parliament. "We think it could be held in 2005, probably at the beginning, but we are open to other possibilities," he said.

The Netherlands, however, may beat Portugal to the polls, planning its referendum as early as December this year, in the closing month of its presidency of the EU. Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt is suggesting that the three Benelux countries — Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — stage their referendums on the same day, which means there could a rash of polls in December.

The Czech Republic and Poland are still probable candidates for referendums, although no firm plans have been announced and the UK still seems to be the back runner, with the poll most likely set for the Spring of 2006. There is no news from either Ireland or Denmark, both of which are required by their constitutions to hold referendums. Germany is, of course, prohibited from holding referendums by its constitution, Malta looks likely to ratify through its parliament and so does Finland.

This leaves the situation at ten countries which are more or less certain to hold referendums, two possibles, four which almost certainly will not, and the others remaining to be accounted for.