EU Constitution: the real test is yet to come

The leaders of 25 EU member states met to sign the Constitution, photo: CTK

It was a big day for the EU on Friday: after two years of debate, the leaders of 25 EU member states met to sign the union's first ever Constitution - a document which is expected to transform the face of Europe. But, behind the fanfare, doubts lurked as to whether the Constitution would ever come into force. Daniela Lazarova has been following the story. Daniela how is the EU constitution perceived in the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in May of this year?

The leaders of 25 EU member states met to sign the Constitution,  photo: CTK
Well, it is obvious that the real test for the EU Constitution is still to come -in the Czech Republic as well as in several other member countries. Czech politicians now have to "sell it" to the public because the Czech Republic is one of the countries which will be ratifying the Constitution by national referendum rather by a parliamentary vote. It will be the first time that Czechs will be in a position to vote on such a fundamental document affecting their lives, but I fear that at this point they lack the necessary information and providing that information is a big task for the governing coalition. It has not been very good at information campaigns in the past so this will be a big challenge. But we can listen now to some opinions from the streets of Prague:

What do you know about the EU Constitution?

Man: "Not so much. I only saw something on the Euro news and read something in the papers but that's all."

Do you think you have enough information to vote in a referendum or would you prefer for Parliament to decide the matter?

"I think that Parliament, rather than I or the public in general should decide. It is enough that we are in the EU - things like the constitution that is politician's work."

Woman: "I don't know if it is a good document or not, but I think that there should be something like it. I think there should be a referendum on it. Personally I am not informed enough at present but for sure I will seek the information before a referendum takes place."

Man: "I definitely want to see the creation of a "super state" to counterbalance the United States and we definitely need a constitution for all the member states."

Do you have enough information to vote in a referendum?

"Not right now, but I am sure that I will find all the information I need on the Internet."

Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda signing the EU Constitution,  photo: CTK
The first EU member to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution will be Spain, which goes to the polls in February, followed by Portugal in April - when would the Czech referendum take place?

Well, that's still a matter of controversy and it reflects how Czech politicians themselves feel about the EU Constitution. The ruling Social Democrats -who strongly support it -would like to have the referendum within the framework of the next parliamentary elections in 2006. But the opposition Civic Democrats and indeed President Klaus are against that - they feel that this vote is so important that it should be addressed separately. Many Civic Democrats are downright against the EU Constitution in its present form and President Klaus has described it as "a highly controversial document". Indeed he himself was not willing to travel to Rome to put his signature on it. For the Czech Republic it was signed by the Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and by the Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. So it depends on who will be in office at the time of the referendum and how successful the information campaign is. But, having said that, we should keep in mind that Czechs only recently joined the EU, they were very eager to join, and I don't think they are likely to rock the boat unless there is a great deal of opposition to the Constitution in other EU member states.