By Daniel Flynn
SPANISH Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pledged on Monday night in Palma to make the campaign for a “yes” vote in a European Constitution referendum a top priority this year, saying it would bring greater prosperity to Spain.

Socialist leader Zapatero, outlining his legislative agenda after a meeting with Spain's King Juan Carlos, said a drive for greater rights for women and measures to stimulate the economy were his other main initiatives. “The coming political cycle, the next year, will be remembered for the referendum on the European constitution. It is a milestone, an important event for our country and we intend it to be a central part of the government's agenda,” he said.

The constitution, a new set of rules for the recently enlarged bloc, was finally approved in June after months of bitter haggling. All 25 EU members must ratify it by the end of 2006.

Fervently pro-European, Zapatero reversed the transatlantic focus of his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar's foreign policy.
On taking office in April, he pledged to strengthen ties with France and Germany and promptly angered Washington by withdrawing Spanish troops from the coalition occupying Iraq.

The opposition Popular Party (PP) has slammed Zapatero for easing the previous PP government's opposition to weaker voting rights for Spain under the proposed EU charter.

Spain's shift was crucial for the constitution's approval, but the PP accused Zapatero of succumbing to pressure from Germany and France. “This government is firmly convinced the European constitution is a positive step forward for Europe, for Spain and for European integration,” Zapatero said. “History has taught us that European integration means progress: progress and prosperity.” Despite mutterings from some of Spain's powerful regional parties, Zapatero expressed his faith they would support the EU constitution.
Spain's regional parties, particularly in the economic powerhouse of Catalonia and the turbulent Basque region, have traditionally seen Brussels as a balance to Madrid's influence in their affairs.


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