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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February, 2005, 23:11 GMT
Spaniards positive about EU vote
By Elinor Shields
BBC News, Madrid

Marta, Spanish voter
Like Marta, many Spaniards are planning to vote Yes
Marta likes the idea of Europe - and she is happy to take time out from a glass of beer to say why.

The 30-year-old Spaniard is going to vote "Si" for an EU constitution this Sunday. And she is quick to back the charter which extends and clarifies the powers of a European level of government.

"There will be fewer differences between members," she says.

Marta may speak for many Spaniards when they cast their votes in the first of 10 referendums across the continent to decide the charter's fate.

Spain's result is likely to be "yes". All the mainstream parties are in favour, from the ruling socialists to the opposition conservatives.

And polls indicate that Spaniards will rally behind the constitution - even though they know little about its content.

EU symbolism

Nine out of 10 Spaniards say they know nothing about the charter, according to a recent government poll. But just over half said they would vote in favour.

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Why? Many Spaniards feel positive about the EU because membership symbolises their transition to democracy after years of dictatorship and poverty.

Under General Franco, Spain faced "isolation, defeat and exclusion," says Europe analyst Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, of the Royal Elcano Institute in Madrid.

When Spain returned to Europe it regained self-esteem - and gained generous EU subsidies - he says.

Spanish voters say how they intend to vote and why

"Europe represents material, political and symbolic benefits. It means prosperity, development and peace," he says.

Some analysts suggest debate on the charter has been limited in Spain because Spaniards do not think they have much to lose.

"Europe has always been good news in Spain, and that remains unchallenged," says Anna Verges, of the School of Law at Manchester University.

Mr Torreblanca agrees: "We do not open debates as to why the sun rises from the east."

Calling for a 'no'

Many Spaniards may not think they have much at stake in Sunday's vote - but a small minority made up of regional nationalists and a far-left party are calling for a "no".

Some regional nationalists in Catalonia and Galicia oppose the charter because they feel the constitution does not include a sufficiently regional dimension.

Left-wing opponents argue that the EU charter should do more. The United Left party says the constitution favours free market policies over social welfare and is too-pro American.

SPAIN AND THE EU
Since joining the EU in 1986:
EU subsidies of more than 100bn euros pumped into Spain's economy
European funds have financed 4km out of every 10km of Spanish highways
Helped to create 300,000 jobs a year
Protesters at a small but jubilant rally in Madrid agree, as drummers energise the eclectic group of activists.

For Juan Hargoindey, the charter is a missed opportunity to create a federal Europe.

"I am not a Euro-sceptic - I'm the opposite," he says.

"This is not a real advance," adds the spokesman for Another Democracy is Possible - the main group campaigning against the referendum, made up of civil society groups and green associations.

"Brussels is still a bureaucratic entity with little chance for citizens to influence it," Juan Carlos Madronal says.

All eyes on turnout

But observers say abstention, not opposition, is the Spanish government's real fear for Sunday.

Rally in Madrid calling for a No vote in the referendum
Those campaigning for a No vote are in the minority
"The government wanted to make it significant" that Spain is set to launch the referendums, says Peru Egurbide, diplomatic correspondent for Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is hoping that a resounding yes will give the constitution momentum across Europe, observers say. A very low turnout could mar his government's victory.

But while commentators speculate some right-wing Spaniards could use abstention from the poll to punish Mr Zapatero's government, they say there is less at stake in a low turnout for the Spanish government than for the charter itself.

"A low turnout would damage the credentials of the constitution - not Spain - in Europe," Mr Torreblanca says.

Pro-EU leaders across the continent will be hoping that Spaniards share Marta's enthusiasm for greater European integration.




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