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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Viewpoint: Spain fights voting system
In one of a series of articles for BBC News Online by members of European governments, Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacio explains her priorities for the final negotiations on an EU constitution.

On Saturday, 28 European countries gathered in Rome to finish drawing up a constitution for the European Union.

Spain will do its utmost to ensure the success of the conference - we believe it can succeed and that it can do so within the proposed time-frame, by the end of the year.

Assuming the outcome is satisfactory from the European and the national standpoint, we intend to submit it for popular endorsement in a referendum on the day of the European Parliament elections (13 June).

However, I am concerned that some member states are already announcing to all and sundry that they intend to impose on participants the draft constitution prepared by the Convention on the future of Europe.

They argue (somewhat arrogantly at times) that the draft produced by the Convention already represents the consensus among the member states - and suggest that anyone wishing to modify it will have to convince them first of the need for modification.

But if the democratically elected governments of the member states agreed to this, they would be waiving their right to exercise their responsibilities.

Needless to say, my government, like many others, will not engage in such a dereliction of duty.

Fundamental reservations

Of late, several prominent political figures in Europe have been stressing how important it is to speak clearly among friends.

We agree, and therefore we have been striving to say clearly to other member states - and particularly to the Italian presidency - that there is much in the Convention's draft that we can accept, especially those proposals that we consider as having been discussed in depth at the Convention and which were part of its mandate.

Some have accused Spain of seeking to block the conference - perhaps in the misguided belief that media pressure will change the Spanish government's position
We are willing, for example, to support the significant moves to simplify the workings of the EU, the proposal for more European collaboration in security and defence, and the construction of a European space of freedom, security and justice.

But we, along with other member states, have a fundamental reservations about some proposals concerning reform of the institutions, particularly the system of voting proposed for the Council of Ministers, which has a number of serious defects.

The convention's draft says a qualified majority exists if a decision is backed by at least 50%-plus-one of the Member States, representing in turn at least 60% of the population.

This has been called simple, effective and democratic, but is it?

  • Simple?: How simple will it be for member states to agree on the definition of the population of a country? Do you count citizens or residents? What about citizens living in third countries, or illegal residents? Do you adjust figures to take account of natural demographic trends, if so how often, and on the basis of which statistics? Etc
  • Effective?: The allegedly more effective voting system is largely the result of the concentration of power in the hands of a select few - the largest member states. If we take the argument to the extreme, the most efficient decision-making system, mathematically, in a group, is to give all the power to one single member: should that system be adopted then?
  • Democratic?: Modern political thought says that true democracy should be grounded on systems that enable minority voices to be heard and to genuinely influence decision-making.

Those who advocate this system, which gives most power to the most populous member state, need to bear in mind that before long this is likely to be Turkey, on the basis of current demographic forecasts.

Is that what we Europeans want? Or does the doublespeak we have so often denounced in relation to Turkey apply to the proposals for Council voting too?

Spirit of compromise

Some have accused Spain of seeking to block the conference, perhaps in the misguided belief that media pressure will change the Spanish government's position.

It is hard to discern a spirit of compromise in this accusation, which does not augur well for a constructive atmosphere in the conference.

The Spanish Government, for its part, is ready to shoulder its responsibilities.

During the conference we will work loyally to defend the interests of the European Union - yes, the Union, despite attempts by some to have us believe otherwise - as well as those of Spain itself.

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