12th October 2011: This week Andrew Brons is in Brussels for a Mini-Plenary Session and meeting of his committees. Yesterday afternoon he spoke at the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee, discussing the remaining stages for the accession of Croatia to the European Union.
This what is the MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber told his colleagues on the Croatia Delegation.
"My understanding is that the official referendum campaign will last one month - thirty days from the signing of the Treaty. However, one representative of the Croatian Government said this morning that the Government was, "already preparing the public for the referendum," and another said, "We have intensified our information campaigns".
It seems that, whilst the No Campaign will have a bare thirty days, the Yes Campaign will have lasted for several months.
There has been some concern expressed by some members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that there might be some free debate on the merits or otherwise of the EU during the General Election (due to take place on 4th December). Perish the thought that free debate should take place during a general election campaign! I should have thought that free debate on such an important issue during a general election campaign was rather a good thing, especially during the period before the referendum.
I understand from the Croatian Ambassador to the EU, during the preparatory meeting, that the law relating to this referendum will be a general law relating to the holding of referendums* generally. There are a number of questions that arise.
I believe that there are no limits of money that can be spent by the protagonists. Is there a limit on the amount of public money that can be spent on 'information', which might otherwise be termed 'propaganda' by the Government?
The question of the wording of the referendum question was mentioned briefly by the Ambassador at the preparatory meeting but he did not have time to expand on this point. Who will devise the wording and what assurances are there for the neutrality of the wording.
The newspapers are presumably free to write whatever they wish. What restrictions are there on state and private broadcasting?
I anticipate that the amount spent on the Yes Campaign, including the amount of public money spent on the so-called information campaign, will swamp any small amount spent by the No Campaign.
I anticipate that the Government will use its influence on state broadcasting to produce a Yes vote.
Early this year there was a small majority, in an opinion poll, against Croatia joining the EU, although there have been subsequent polls with a small majority in favour. The Croatian Government representative said that he hoped or expected that 80% would vote in favour. Such a conversion could only be brought about by a deluge of propaganda, similar to that experienced in the United Kingdom in 1975. This will not be a recipe for long term support but for years of resentment and unrelenting pressure for regaining of independence.
There are those who would like to leave the handling of the referendum to Croatia, without any interference from the EU. However, the EU did not feel reticent about interfering in every aspect of Croatian life, during the negotiation period, from enforced social liberalism to the handing over to the International Criminal Court, generals for atrocities that they neither ordered nor condoned.
Outsiders generally and the EU in particular must concern themselves with this last act of an independent Croatia and ensure that it is fairly conducted."
Mr. Plenkovics said that the Croatian Government used money to inform citizens and not to make propaganda.
A Croatian MP said that if a Pro-EU party were to win the General Election it should be able to spend public money on a pro-EU campaign.
*Some people prefer 'referenda' to 'referendums'. However, 'referenda' is the plural only in the nominative, vocative (hardly appropriate) and accusative cases. It is 'referendis' in the dative and ablative cases and 'referendorum' in the genitive. That's enough of that!