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Europe

Greens Want EU-Wide Referendum on Constitution

As a growing number of European Union countries decide to hold national referendums on the bloc's draft constitution, leading European Greens politicians are beginning to call for an EU-wide vote.

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MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit (left) says EU voters should decide on the Constitution.

Britain will do it and France may too, but Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the German Green party's top candidate for elections to the European Parliament (EP) elections in June, says it's wrong. If people are asked to cast ballots in countrywide referendums on accepting the European Constitution they will inevitably be swayed by national interests, the French-German politician claims. The EU should instead stage a single uniform vote throughout the bloc.

The problem could be solved if "all peoples in all member states were presented with the same question from Brussels on the same day to vote on," Cohn-Bendit, who currently holds a seat in the EP as a French Green, told the Rheinische Post newspaper. If at the same time a majority of registered EU voters and a majority in three-quarters of the 25 member states said "yes" to the Constitution, the document should be considered accepted, he suggested.

Germany would only need to add a law to its constitution -- which does not provide for referendums -- allowing them when the EU requires it, Cohn-Bendit suggested. Thus, Germany could avoid arousing a debate about national referendums without actually prescribing EU ones.

With Cohn-Bendit at the helm, the Greens are the only party campaigning for EP elections with a joint platform throughout its European parties.

Although a draft treaty of the European Constitution was completed last year, EU member states have been unable to agree on key points, particularly voting rights, and continue trying to iron out differences.

Just as democratic

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has repeatedly ruled out holding a referendum on the constitution, saying that the country's approval process via parliamentary vote was "equally as democratic" as putting the issue to the people in a popular vote. Although he vowed to introduce referendums before taking office, he hasn't pursued the issue further, and it's unlikely that he could muster a two-thirds majority in the two houses of parliament necessary to change the constitution.

That's not to say that Cohn-Bendit's proposal will fall on deaf ears in Berlin. Indeed, days after UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision in April to hold a referendum on the Constitution, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel brought up the idea in a talk show on German television. He said that individual national referendums aren't "clever" because they get tied up with domestic politics.

"That's a big risk because domestic politics could very easily get mixed up with a fundamental European question and that is always dangerous," Schüssel said. "The solution may really be that after the ratification by national parliaments ... that we then jointly on one day in the whole of Europe put the question to the European population. Then no one can say it was done over the heads of the people."

The idea found resonance with German Finance Minister Hans Eichel, too. "I could imagine the whole of Europe holding a referendum," Eichel told public broadcaster ZDF. "I don't think it's sensible if individual countries do it and then one gets…nationalist tendencies that can pit people against each other."

France undecided

France, where referendums are relatively common, has not yet decided whether to put the constitution to a popular vote though French President Jacques Chirac has been under pressure to do so.

"In France, (referendums) are the rule. I don't see how we can deprive people of the right to have a say. It would be a denial of democracy," Socialist Pierre Moscovici, a former European affairs minister, told Libération newspaper. During is re-election campaign last year, Chirac also pledged to hold a referendum on the issue.

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