24 February 2005 Edition
EU Constitution - We don't know, don't care
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
Across the 25-state European Union, its citizens, political parties and governments will in the coming 18 months have to debate, discuss and in the case of ten states, including the 26 Counties, vote on ratifying the new EU constitution. But recent polls and last Sunday's Spanish referendum have shown that across the EU, a substantial amount of voters don't care or don't know about the proposed constitution.
In Ireland, European Affairs Minister Noel Tracey recently declared that "no issue on the agenda is of greater importance than the ratification of the European constitution", yet his Fianna Fáil-led government cannot commit themselves to an actual date for the referendum.
Treacy admits that that the government is concerned about a recent Euro barometer poll, conducted across the 25 EU states, which showed that in the 26 Counties 45% of Irish voters had never heard of the EU constitution, yet here we are weeks later, still no debate, and no information campaign and it seems also no finished copies of the EU Constitution itself for the public to buy.
Spanish voters registered a 76% yes vote in last Sunday's referendum, however the resounding vote looks paltry against a 42% turnout, meaning a clear majority of Spaniards were not exercised enough to actually turn up at the polls.
In Spain, all the stops had been pulled out in a PR campaign to encourage voters to go to the polls, even though a survey last December found that up to 90% of Spaniards have little or no idea about the actual provisions of the EU constitution.
The government organised a public campaign using footballers actors, singers, writers and journalists. Every seat in Spanish football stadiums had a leaflet on the constitution left on it in recent matches, and five million free summaries of the constitution were distributed, but all of this seems to have little effect on voters.
There are two failures here that are being replicated throughout the rest of the EU, and particularly in Ireland. They are a failure to properly inform citizens as to the provisions of the EU constitution and a failure to create an atmosphere where interest groups and political parties can debate and discuss the implications of adopting this new constitution.
So what is happening in Ireland? Is there any political will to tackle the problems of an uninformed and disinterested electorate. It doesn't seem so. The government have promised a public awareness campaign but there is as yet no sign.
Maybe they plan to rely on the EU propaganda machine. The EU Commission has made €8 million available to member state governments to run 'information' campaigns. The British Government has rejected its €700,000 offer because they don't want the political embarrassment of the Commission campaigning there for a Yes vote. Will the Irish Government be as circumspect or will they let the EU propaganda machine roll into Ireland?
Last week, most of the leaders of other EU states attended a Yes campaign event in Barcelona. Do we want the same thing happening here? Surely the Irish electorate will be let consider its own opinion, without EU interference.
In particular, we need to clear up now the positions of EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy and EU ambassador to the US John Bruton. Can we be given commitments now that as holders of EU offices they will take no part in the EU constitution information or referendum campaigns, if indeed the coalition government actually sees a difference between the two?
Last week, Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso came under fire in his native Portugal for appearing in a party political broadcast ahead of last Sunday's parliamentary elections in the state.
COALITION DON'T WANT DEBATE
Writing last week in the Irish Times in response to the EU barometer study which showed that 45% of Irish voters had never heard of the EU constitution. UCD academics Richard Sinnott and Fiachra Kennedy said that "support is of a very general nature and is not deeply rooted".
It seems that the Government here is content to trade on the fact that 77% of Irish voters think EU membership is "a good thing". They don't want to get into the detail of a real debate on Europe.
Perhaps they don't want to deal with some of the divisions highlighted in the recently published EU poll, where 34% voters fear the economic consequences of EU integration, 74% fear a loss of jobs, and 59% want the government to retain control of its defence policy.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.