Friday, February 11, 2005

Spanish ayes

I suppose one benefit of the media obsession with the royal "soap opera" is that the wall-to-wall coverage of the Charles/Camilla wedding announcement has meant there was very little in the newspapers that we needed to read today.

It would be a pleasant – if unlikely – change if the phalanxes of gurus pronouncing on the constitutional implications of the marriage would spend a fraction of their valuable time evaluating the constitutional implications of the constitution – the EU constitution. That would never do, I suppose.

That apart, The Times, having completely ignored the British dimension of the EU referendum yesterday – having failed to report the second reading debate – did at least manage to tear itself away from the soap opera long enough to look at the Spanish situation, where its correspondent in Madrid, David Sharrock, reported under the headline: "The question where only a resounding 'Yes' is the right answer".

The result is a foregone conclusion, he writes, but the leaders of France and Germany will nonetheless fly to Barcelona today to try to ensure that Spain secures the biggest possible victory in next week’s referendum on the European constitution.

That, as we have observed previously on this Blog, is the real issue, as referendums in Spain suffer from notoriously low turnouts, and a low count in this referendum would not exactly convey unalloyed confidence in the project.

Chirac and Schröder, clearly aware of this, will be joining a rally with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in the hope that a resounding Sí in the first national referendum will set the tone for much trickier votes beyond the Pyrenees.

Berlusconi was also due to be present, but is down with flu but, had there been a foursome, we would have seen two left of centre and two right wing leaders, demonstrating how far love for the "project" has transcended traditional political divides.

This is also the case domestically, in Spain, where both the ruling Socialists and opposition People's Party support the constitution, also confirming the thesis that this is a projected beloved of the political classes, from whichever side of the political divide.

Nevertheless, Zapatero is leaving nothing to chance, flinging other peoples' money at the referendum with gay abandon, having spent about €7.5 million (£5.16 million) so far on a campaign entitled The First with Europe.

The latest polls show about 40 per cent of Spaniards intend to vote "yes" and 7 percent "no", with 38 percent yet to decide. But the latest poll also found that 90 per cent of Spaniards know nothing or very little about the constitution, despite the Government's month-long information campaign.

However, since 1986 Spain has received €86 billion (£59.24 billion) in EU aid, so it is not surprising that there is strong public sentiment in favour of the project. Whether that enthusiasm survives after the EU budget settlement has been agreed, when it is expected that funding to Spain will be slashed, remains to be seen. By then, of course, it will be too late. The Spanish will be in the bag.

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