By Humphrey Carter
SPAIN'S pro-European Socialist government has decided that British and all other fellow non-Spanish European citizens resident in Spain will not be eligible to vote in the country's referendum on the new European Union constitution on February 20, 2005.

Brussels has given each EU member state wishing to hold a referendum the right to make its own decision as to who will have the right to vote. But Conservative Partido Popular members in Majorca have said that the Spanish Prime Minister's decision to only grant Spaniards the right to vote “smacks at pure hypocrisy and defies the logic of the European Union.” Philip Bushill-Matthews, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands Region, talking to the Bulletin from his office in Strasbourg, admits that Brussels, in allowing each member state to decide how its referendum will be held, has given governments ‘carte blanche' to call the referendum “how they see it.” In Spain, for example, where the referendum is expected to be a very close one, Bushill-Matthews suspects that perhaps Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, fears that the non-Spanish EU vote could swing the referendum in the opposite direction to the government's “Yes” stance.

However, the MEP admits that this is a very complicated issue with Tony Blair planning on calling the referendum the opposite way by allowing non-British European Union citizens in the United Kingdom to take part. “So far, Blair has only floated the idea and it has been met with a great deal of resistance from British voters as there is serious concern that pro-EU constitution voters will flood across the Channel just to vote in the referendum,” Bushill-Matthews said. “But, whatever the reasons, I think the Spanish government's decision highlights the power of the ex-pat vote and the importance the non-Spanish EU resident vote had in Spain at the last municipal elections,” he added.

WRONG MESSAGE “EU referendum aside, I believe Spain should be working towards allowing EU residents to vote at the next general election and, based in the principal of ‘no taxation without representation' I supposed non-Spanish EU-citizens resident in Spain, especially those on the electoral role, should have the right to take part in the EU referendum,” he said. “After all, it's an issue which is going to affect us all in the European Union block.” Kate Mentink, Conservative PP Calvia Councillor for Foreign Affairs says that the Spanish government, which is going to be the first to hold a referendum on the Constitution, “is sending out the wrong message to the rest of Europe.” Over the past few weeks Mentink has been fielding scores of calls from non-Spanish EU residents wanting to know how to go about voting in the referendum - “well, it transpires that the government has recently decided that they can't,” she said. “I believe that those on the electoral role should automatically have the right to vote, but Brussels has told me that it is up to each individual government to decide. “Spain's decision defies all logic and goes against the whole idea of the European Union and the new Constitution,” she said.
Mentink also admits that, while the government has not given the reasons behind its decision, it may be a strategic one. “Perhaps the Prime Minister does not want to take the risk of letting non-Spaniards vote. “According to our calculations there are an estimated 100'000 EU citizens in Majorca who want to participate. But if Spain sets a precedent and many of the other EU member states holding referendums follow suit, the estimated 25 million European Union citizens living in the EU but not in their country of origin, could be denied the right to vote on the Constitution. “Hopefully, when it comes to the UK referendum, British residents in the Balearics will be granted the same voting rights as for the general elections. But Tony Blair has not made a decision yet and it appears that every one is watching what happens in Spain first. “Yet again the Socialists have shown their opinion of their non-Spanish European residents by denying these citizens the most basic right in any civilised democracy - the right to cast their vote,” she stressed.

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