Spanish referendum on the European Constitution

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National referenda on the
European Constitution
Czech Republic Cancelled
Denmark Postponed
France No No (55% of 69%)
Ireland Date not set
Luxembourg Yes Yes (57% of 88%)
Netherlands No No (62% of 63%)
Poland Postponed
Portugal Postponed
Spain Yes Yes (77% of 42%)
United Kingdom   Postponed
Parliamentary approvals

On 20 February 2005 a consultative referendum was held in Spain to ask whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. The result was a landslide victory for the "Yes" campaign, with 77 per cent of voters in favour. Turnout, however, was only 42 per cent of the electorate—the lowest in any election since the restoration of democracy in the 1970s.

The question put to voters was:

¿Aprueba usted el Tratado por el que se establece una Constitución para Europa?
"Do you approve the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe?"

The referendum was not legally binding on the government, but paved the way for parliamentary ratification of the constitutional treaty, which happened in the Lower Chamber on April 28, 2005, with a result of 319 "Yes" against 19 "No", and in the Upper Chamber on May 18, 2005 with a result of 225 "Yes" against 6 "No" and one abstention.

Campaign

Front cover of an edition of the constitutional treaty published and distributed for free by the Spanish government
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Front cover of an edition of the constitutional treaty published and distributed for free by the Spanish government

Both the governing Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and the main opposition People's Party (PP) campaigned for a "Yes" vote. They were joined by the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ–PNV) and the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Unity (CiU). Among the parties campaigning for a "No" vote were United Left (IU), Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV), the social democratic Aragonese Council (CHA), the Basque nationalist social democratic Eusko Alkartasuna, and the CGT trade union.

Amidst widespread apathy surrounding the constitutional treaty, and ignorance of its contents (in a government poll, 90 per cent of voters admitted to having little or no knowledge of its provisions), the government hired celebrities to read excerpts from the text in daily television broadcasts, and five million copies (without annexes) were sent out with Sunday papers. While many felt that the result of the referendum was a foregone conclusion, it was feared that turnout could be as low as 40 to 50 per cent of the electorate. This turned out to be the case.

In late January 2005, several bodies campaigning for a "No" vote complained to Spain's independent National Electoral Commission about the government's planned information campaign:

  • On 14 January, ERC demanded that the National Electoral Commission should block what it saw as unfair promotion of the treaty by the government.
  • On 19 January, the Tomás Moro Centre for Juridical Studies (CJSTM) and Another Democracy is Possible complained to the National Electoral Commission about what they saw as the unfair nature of the government’s campaign.

In response to these complaints, the Commission ruled that the government's campaign must be purely informative, and banned several of its campaign slogans:

The campaign to be carried out by the Government as part of the present referendum process must inform objectively on the contents of the Treaty.... All value judgements and slogans previously used in TV, on websites and other media, e.g. "We are first with Europe", and statements that could, direct or indirectly, influence the position or attitude of the citizens, must be removed.

There were also reports of censorship in the government's online forum on the Constitution. According to Another Democracy is Possible, the website also infringes Spanish law related to government information, and could be defined as "illicit publicity".

Results

Distribution of "Yes" votes by province.
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Distribution of "Yes" votes by province.
Distribution of the turnout by province.
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Distribution of the turnout by province.

The result of the referendum was a landslide victory for the "Yes" campaign. At only 42 per cent, turnout was the lowest in any election since the restoration of democracy in 1977. This was seen by commentators as an embarrassment for the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Final results:
Votes cast 14,204,663 42.32%
Abstentions 19,359,017 57.68%
Electorate 33,563,680
Of votes cast:
Valid votes 14,081,966 99.14%
Invalid votes 122,697 0.86%
Total votes 14,204,663
Of valid votes:
Yes 10,804,464 76.73%
No 2,428,409 17.24%
Blank 849,093 6.03%
Total 14,081,966

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