Saturday

24th Feb 2018

Opinion

Shut up and vote Yes

In its official call for the referendum the Spanish government announced a "campaign of institutional character destined to inform the citizens about the date of the referendum, the procedure of vote and the requirements and proceedings of the vote by mail".

That is a very good idea and 100% legal.

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To provide anything more than neutral information would be illegal. The Spanish General Law of Publicity bans deceptive, unfair or subliminal publicity. The National Electoral Commission, defines this kind of propaganda as "any activity or statements designed to gain or condition the public vote".

Let me repeat this, to make it very clear: The Spanish government is forbidden by Spanish law to carry out any activities or statements to ensure a "yes" vote in the upcoming referendum on 20 February 2005. But what are they doing in practice?

On TV national VIPs read parts of the EU Constitution where they, for example, praise the "freedom of speech" given to us by the EU Constitution. Perhaps that is an innovation in Spain, but as far as I know we have that already, don’t we?

The homepage of the foreign ministry (www.constitucioneuropea.es), however, starts with the minister’s words: "The process of European integration is the most hopeful and innovative political project for the last generations…" – Does not sound very neutral to me!

If you talk to campaigners in Spain who are opposing the EU Constitution you tend to believe that there are uncountable examples where the official "institutional" campaign is obviously very biased and definitely "designed to gain or condition the public vote".

Oops, that was the Electoral Commission’s definition of illicit "propaganda", wasn’t it? After complaints of activists groups the government was reprimanded by the Electoral Commission – even if only half-heartedly.

Information needed

Information is, however, very much needed in the state of the bull fight. According to the latest polls from January 2005 nine out of ten Spaniards know ‘little’ or ‘nothing’ about the EU Constitution.

At the same time everyone expects a "yes" vote of 80% or more. What does that mean? Are the Spaniards giving a blank signed cheque to the EU? Why would they do that?

Perhaps because of their leader’s constant statements, like this one of Zapatero, who predicts: "Spain, which came quite late to a democratic constitution and the European construction, has now the opportunity to show that it is, unambiguous and by a majority, with Europe." – "Now Europe watches us; (...) therefore I am convinced that the Spaniards are going to send a clear message of Europeanism (...)."

Or the social minister says: "Europe has been very positive for Spain (...) All this is going to be consolidated with the new European Constitution (...)." Or the tourist minister: "(...) the Constitution is (…) not only our political future (… but …) the guarantee of the well-being and the quality of life of the Europeans in the future." I think, this is a clear case for Jo ‘Parachute’ Leinen’s rapid reaction force, isn’t it?

To my ears that sounds very much like chieftains who tell their tribe: "If you say ‘no’ to the EU Constitution you are anti-Europeans! We owe the EU, so shut up and vote ‘yes’ and stop asking stupid questions! The Constitution is a cure to all our problems!"

And according to Spanish activists, the Spanish media is keen on telling their readers about the blessings of the constitution as well. Even if there are some good points about the proposed text… Does this mean that the EU Constitution has only, explicitly, merely and solely positive consequences for Spain and for the European Union?

If you buy a car, what information do you need? Do you only want to hear about the good parts? Or would you be interested to learn about the rotten brakes as well, before you make your decision on whether to buy it or not?

Bad benchmark

No, I am completely shocked – not really surprised, however – about the style of conduct of the Spanish yes-campaign.

Particularly in Spain, where the polls are highly in favour of the EU Constitution, the government could be relaxed and give their citizens a real chance to debate the Constitution.

If the text were such a great success it should be easy to deal even with the hardest critics in a fair way: by an open and fair public debate and equal funding of both sides.

In a modern democracy this should be the normal way of dealing with matters. But I am afraid that Spain is going to provide the benchmark for the other upcoming referendums - unfortunately not as a good but as a bad example.

Thomas Rupp is director of the European No Campaign

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