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3 March 2005 Edition

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Who is saying No to the EU Constitution?

In the third of a series of articles on the EU Constitution, Sinn Féin's Director of European Affairs, Eoin O'Broin, looks at some of the progressive voices from across Europe who are saying No.

Spain's low turnout was hardly an auspicious start to the EU Constitution's ten-country series of referenda. 58% of voters simply did not turn out to vote, indicating a high level of confusion, ignorance and indifference.

In the Basque Country, where the No campaign was lead by Batasuna and Eusko Alkartasuna, the turnout was even lower, and the No vote approximately 34%. In Catalonia, where Esquerra Republicana de Cataluna called for voters to reject the Constitution, the No vote was 24%, almost twice the Spanish statewide rate. For Basques and Catalans, the principal concerns were the failure of the Constitution to deal with the rights of stateless nations, its refusal to provide for linguistic equality for Basque and Catalan, and the right wing neo-liberal trend of its economic, criminal justice and foreign policy.

Less than 25% of the population of the Spanish state said Yes. A bad start indeed for the defenders of the Constitution, irrespective of the positive spin they have tried to put on it.

The next country to host a referendum will be France, with most commentators predicting a summer poll. The No campaign is being led by a coalition of the French Communist Party, the left of the Socialist Party and the smaller Workers Struggle and Revolutionary Communist League parties. Laurent Fabius, former French Prime Minister and Socialist Party member, has also criticised the right wing content of the Constitution and warned that; "We are being asked to vote on policies and set them in stone. As soon as we have adopted this text, we will only be able to revise it by unanimity of all the members. That is what's causing an enormous problem. If you vote for a policy and it is not satisfactory, you are stuck with it for 30 years."

His colleague and former Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement has said: "I am truly frightened [by the EU constitution]. The hope for a flexible Europe has been nipped in the bud. I am certain that among the countries concerned, several will reject this text, hopefully including France." The opposition of Fabius and others highlights the deep concern across many European Social Democratic parties, who fear that the Constitution will undermine many of the progressive social measures which the EU has developed in recent years.

Social Democrats in England are also concerned with key aspects of the Constitution. The Centre for a Social Europe, a left of centre think tank which seeks to provide alternative policy solutions to the neo-conservatives in New Labour, has said that; "The Constitution ignores the concerns of the EU's citizens. It gives more power to unreformed institutions, weakens the ability of governments to manage their economies, and undermines public services. The Constitution takes the EU in the wrong direction."

Such sentiments are shared by many Greens, including English MEP Caroline Lucas. Highlighting issues of public services, environmental protection and economic democracy, she has argued that; "The Constitution will commit member states to a path of increased competition and privatisation, even in public services. By opening the door to a race-to-the-bottom in search of ever-lower costs, it will transfer jobs to where the wages and other costs - meeting high environmental standards, for example - are lowest."

Many countries that will not have a referendum are still making strong arguments against the Constitution, in the hope that those countries who will let the people decide hear the concerned voices of the 15 member states whose governments will make the decision. In Sweden, for example, where all recent opinion polls indicate that the population would reject the Constitution, the government has decided to deny them the opportunity and puss a vote through the national parliament.

The Swedish Left Party has led a campaign to force the government to reverse its decision not to hold a referendum, and both at home and in the European Parliament has been vocal in its opposition to a broad range of issues, not least the increased powers which the Constitution will transfer from national parliaments to Brussels and the militarisation of the EU.

Closer to home, the campaign for a No to the constitution is in the pipeline following a series of public meetings in Dublin. Activists from Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), the Democracy and Public Services in Europe group (DAPSE), the People's Movement and a number of other organisations have been coordinating the launch of the campaign, which is set for late March. While the Green Party won't formally take its decision on the Constitution until June - and many commentators are predicting a close vote on the day - senior Green Party figures have already pledged themselves to playing a prominent role in the No campaign.

Last Saturday, at a delegate conference in Dublin, Labour Youth voted to reject the Constitution and to actively campaign against it. Following a debate with Proinsias De Rossa MEP and members of PANA and DAPSE, the delegates chose not to heed the advice of their party leadership and take the No road.

With no date set yet for the 26-County referendum, but autumn 2005 most likely, the campaign looks set to roll out from April. The Six Counties, meanwhile, not voting until 2006, has yet to really engage with the issues.

What is clear, however, is that having suffered the embarrassment of Nice I, the Irish political and media establishment will be mounting a considerable campaign in the weeks and months ahead. Those progressive forces across Ireland who value democracy, peace, social justice, economic development and a fair global order have their work cut out for them.

However, a No result in Ireland would give citizens of all EU member states the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and start to draft a new treaty which is more in keeping with the sentiments of all the peoples of Europe.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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