26 APRIL 2003, Page 13

82 per cent want a referendum on the constitution

Qnly 15 per cent of people in Britain are aware that the EU is drafting a constitution. That's up 5 per cent from the month hefore (our YouGov poll for The Spectator was taken after wide coverage in the media at the end of last week), but still says little for the success of the EU in 'engaging' with citizens in its most important considerations.

In conducting this poll, we first gave respondents a brief explanation about what a constitution is. Then we told them how the European constitution is being developed, and outlined a few of the things it might contain. Thirty-nine per cent approved of the general idea of creating a European constitution (with 42 per cent opposed). We asked if Britain should sign up to the following proposals, if that were finally agreed: an elected president for the EU (37 per cent said 'should', 50 per cent said 'should not'); a common defence policy (44 per cent to 46 per cent); an EU army — with British forces coming under EU command (20 per cent to 69 per cent); establishing guidelines by which the running of each member country's economy would be co-ordinated (25 per cent to 63 per cent).

We asked respondents to imagine that the British government, having been part of the negotiating process, had agreed to the final version of the constitution. Should it then be left to Parliament to decide whether to sign up, or should there be a referendum? Only 12 per cent were willing to leave it to the politicians — 82 per cent wanted the whole nation to give its verdict.

We also asked how they would vote if such a referendum were held, assuming the previously listed proposals were in it. Twenty-eight per cent said they would vote in favour of signing up to the constitution, 54 per cent would vote against.

Each month we do a survey on attitudes to Europe. In March we asked: 'Would you be in favour of a constitution if it meant transferring more control over national issues to the European Union?' With this powerful 'if', only 15 per cent said they would be in favour. But we also asked: 'Do you think the EU should draw up a constitution to clarify what powers it has, and what powers its member states have?' In this context, with the suggestion that a constitution could at least potentially limit the powers of the EU, 79 per cent approved. That is to say, they approved of the EU having a constitution, though not necessarily of Britain's signing up to it.

We also asked about a number of policy areas, and whether in each case `all' or 'most' decisions should be made at national level or at the EU level. Only in the area of 'crime and justice' did a majority of people (just a shade over 50 per cent) think that all decisions should be made at national level. The other results: environmental policy (all/national: 23 per cent; most/national: 24 per cent; jointly: 36 per cent: most/EU: 11 per cent: all/EU: 3 per cent; don't know: 4 per cent). Foreign policy: 33-26-31-5-2-4. Defence policy: 40-22-28-5-2-3. Economic policy: 43-32-19-3-0-4. Asylum and immigration policy: 45-16-26 6 4 3. Crime and justice: 50-26-16-3-1-3.

So for activists on both sides of the superstate fence, there is plenty to play for. In spite of the recent disputes between Britain and countries such as France and Germany, people have certainly not given up on Britain's membership of the EU. In our March survey, only 20 per cent said they would be pleased if the European Union became weaker as a consequence of tensions over Iraq, and only 31 per cent said they would be pleased if, in the future. Britain worked more closely with the United States than with the rest of Europe (compared with 40 per cent who said they would be sorry if that happened).

YouGov surveyed 2,455 adults across the UK between 17 and 19 April 2003, and 1,982 adults between 27 and 28 March 2003, with results weighted to conform to the demographic profile of the country.