Saturday, 28 August 2004

Selling the EU at any price – unfair accession referendums

All the accession referendums can be considered significantly “unfair” in terms of the resources used. In most of the countries the No-side was not allowed any state funding in order to counter the Yes-side, backed by the government, big business and most of the media. This is shown in the TEAM Referendum Monitoring Report (…), presented by The European Alliance of EU-critical Movements, TEAM.

In the report the nine accession referendums, as well as the euro-referendum in Sweden, are monitored and compared to ten criteria for fairness in referendums, set up by the TEAM Board. Governments in most of the EU Applicant countries that held referendums showed no interest in encouraging “fairness” or genuine democratic debate. They strongly pushed the Yes-side agenda and were driven by a concern to win the referendum. The EU was to be sold – no matter what the price.

The way the accession referendums were conducted is worrying. This was because it showed that many governments had little respect for the referendum process and did not take this opportunity to use it as a tool to increase citizens’ participation to deepen the debate on important issues. In most countries the referendum was seen as a tool for governments to deliver the right result.

During the coming two years, several referendums will be held to ratify the draft Constitution which is currently being negotiated. This requires a thorough discussion about the quality of referendums – in order they are conducted in a fair and proper manner. One crucial question concerns the use of taxpayers’ money by the government: “How can it be fair or democratic for a government to push the point of view of only one side when taxes are raised from people on both sides of a referendum proposition?”

In order for a referendum to be conducted in a fair way, the government needs to take an independent position. To the greatest extent possible, state resources need to be divided equally between both sides. Besides this, an independent body needs to monitor the process and see that fair referendum rules are reinforced.

Brussels 12 October 2003

TEAM Board

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