SPAIN: Referendum on the EU constitution

John Heelan says: The formal figures on the EU referendum released by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior make interesting reading, especially the regional variances.  As has already been discussed , 76.49% of the votes cast were "Yes", 17.43% were "No" and 6.08% were spoiled papers.  The turnout was 42.43%n, indicating an abstention rate of 57.55%.

On a regional basis, the highest abstentions were the Balearics (66.76%) and the Canaries (67.36%), with the Balearics voting 77.56% "Yes", the Canaries voting 67.36% "Yes".  Ceuta had a 71.9% abstention rate with a "Yes" vote of 81.27%, Melilla with 73.36% and 85.57% respectively. Other regions with a higher than average abstention rate (57.57%) were País Vasco (61.27; 62.62% voting "yes"), Asturias (61.05%: 75.58%), Andalucia (59.61%: 83.23%) ,  Cataluña (59.12%; 28.03%).

Thus the highest "No" votes were recorded in País Vasco (33.66%), Navarra (28.97%), Cataluña (28.03%), each substantially higher than the average "No" vote than seems to be around 12.5%.

It is interesting the Europeans generally are apathetic about voting on EU referendums compared to their own national elections.  Although Zapatero's opponents are squeezing as much political capital out of the low turnout, it is perhaps worth remembering that the average turnout in countries electing members to the EU Parliament last June was only 41% (Spain 45%).  One might perhaps blame the low Spanish turnout on the EU Constitution on the potential feelings of abstainers that "A Yes vote is inevitable", or total disinterest in or lack of understanding about the nature of the referendum.  It will be interesting to see if that paradigm is repeated in referendums on the EU Constitutions held in other countries over the next year.  [In the UK especially as currently an overall "No" vote is likely.]

RH: The regional differences are interesting. The two island groups, the Canaries and the Balearics, are special cases. There was an independence movement in the Canaries; I do not know if it is still alive. Perhaps George Sassoon can ask his friend, the son of Robert Graves, to tell us about the mood in the Balearics.  Being enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla are special cases.  It is odd for them to be part of the EU, but so are French départements d'outre mer: Guadaloupe, Martinique and French Guiana. What about La Reunion and French Polynesia, where there is an independence movement?  In all of these areas there are native populations which do not consider themselves European. The regions of Spain, especially the Basque provinces and Catalonia, favor a Europe of regions, whereas the national governments back a Europe of states.  Not having seen the EU constitution, I do not know what it says on the regional issue.  Perhaps some WAISer can find it on the web and inform us on this subject.

Continuing his debate with Christopher Jones (CJ), John Heelan says: On what do you base that opinion? Given a 74% turnout in Spain's general election last year, I suggest that democracy is flourishing in Spain, compared to the UK with a 59% turnout in the 2001 election compared to 1992 (78%) and 1997 (71%).

CJ: I hesitated before answering this note until the results of the European constitutional referendum in Spain were in.  Using John's criteria, the voter turnout certainly proves that democracy or at least "European" democracy is certainly not flourishing in Spain.  Close to 60% of the electorate did not even bother to vote.  Polls revealed that only one in ten of Spaniards who voted had any understanding at all of what they were voting about. "Elections" are better than no elections?  As the progressive transfer of decision making to the EU and Brussels sinks into the daily lives of Europeans, it will become necessary to tackle the (national) constitutional reforms necessary to rejuvenate democracy in the regional and supra national context, because if not, democracy will wear out, like an old tire.  It has nothing to do with wishful thinking, it is cold hard reality.

RH: I am as usual puzzled. European TV this morning reported that the Spanish referendum favoring the EU constitution passed easily.  King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were shown voting.  Now parliament has to take a vote. A decisive yes vote was predicted.  We shall see.

Randy Black says: I am puzzled by Christopher Jones‚ comment about Œcold, hard reality.‚ It is clear that European voters, including those of Spain, turn out in huge percentages for their own local elections, and it is thus just as clear that democracy is not wearing out, which is the position that Mr. Jones would like us to believe.
On the other hand, I have always wondered if the various EU members would, in fact, transfer their national sovereignty to a larger body, as with the EU in Brussels. I didn‚t think it would come to pass two decades ago when it first came up as a concept, and I continue to wonder if it will work. I know the French were against it in terms of losing their franc, etc., and certainly the English stayed above the fray.
But for Mr. Jones to somehow jump to the conclusion that Spain‚s democratic ideals are on a downward spiral due to a lower than normal turnout for ONE election is preposterous. And that is wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Jones.
Spain became the first country to approve the constitution by referendum on 20 February.

The constitution was backed by 77%
of voters, with 17% against in the referendum, which was not legally binding. With all of Spain's main political parties in favour, ratification is all but guaranteed.

Voter turnout was 42%.

A jubilant Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero urged other EU states to "follow Spain's path".

¡Hank Levin writes: I just returned from Spain tonight and was there for the election on Sunday.  I also read several Catalan and national newspapers each day leading up to the election and summarizing it on Monday.  My own understanding is that many Spaniards found the Constitutional language to be difficult to follow and to apply to their situation;  others still did not recognize the impact of EU membership on their situation. feeling that national and regional primacies and elections were far more significant than this  document from far-off Brussels; and many disagreed with small parts of the constitution such as non-recognition of their regional languages or rights.

Not voting was partially a political act of abstention from something that they thought was inappropriate or irrelevant to their lives and communities.  Even among supporters, there was little enthusiasm in the sense of  spontaneous support or organized rallies with massive participation beyond those orchestrated by the government and the opposition.  There are also questions of whether the support by PP and PSOE was anything more than kneejerk and mechanical.  Both Rajoy and Zapatero sounded like party hacks stroking their political machinery for strategic reasons rather than being personally enlisted and enthusiastic (based upon newspaper reports and TV news).

Just a few observations from someone who was there and whose wife voted on Sunday. RH: Hank's Spanish wife voted, but the ballot is secret, so we will not ask how she voted.  My guess is that she voted no.   She is Catalan, and `perhaps the Catalans did not like a referendum conducted by Madrid.  I have no information on this subject.

John Heelan answers the question as to how Catalans voted in the referendum on the European constitution:

64.69% Yes
28.03% No  (only País Vasco -33.66%-  and Navarra- 28.97%- had higher negative votes)
59.12% Abstained.
[Source: Ministerio del Interio]
RH:  At least it passed easily. Christopher Jones says: The constitution does not recognize the concept of a national "region" like Catalonia or Euskadi; it does not recognize the Catalan languagem nor does it recognize a Catalan's right to a home in his homeland.  RH: Well, presumably it does not recognize the right of a Parisian to live in Paris.  This does not mean that he does not have it. What Christopher presumably is saying is that the constitution says nothing about regions and regional languages.  Would some one please go through the constitution carefully and tell us if this is correct?

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 28, 2005