Asked when the referendum for the EU Constitution might take place in the light of the Foreign Secretary's comments today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Foreign Secretary had simply been setting out the realities about the timing. Every country had two years from today in which to make a decision about the Constitution. Moreover, it was necessary to allow the parliamentary process to take its course in order to obtain parliamentary approval. How long that might take would depend on the parliamentary timetable - although it would obviously be a matter of months rather than weeks. In addition, the UK was due to hold the Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2005. Running a referendum at the same time, therefore, would clearly be an "interesting experience" given all the demands that would entail. In the light of all the above, however, it was important to acknowledge that we had not reached any definite decision as to when a referendum might be held. There were various factors to take into account and we would have to wait and see how things panned out.
Asked if the Prime Minister had had any meetings this morning in Rome about the European Commission, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had had an informal discussion with European Commission President-elect Barroso. No doubt he would also have informal discussions with other European leaders. The Prime Minister had told Mr Barroso that we would fully support any decision he made to resolve the issue. However, today was not about reaching a decision on the shape of the new European Commission. It was a ceremonial occasion to mark the signing of the EU Constitution.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about a survey published today suggesting that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the war in Iraq, the PMOS said that it was important to treat the figures with caution because there were a number of concerns and doubts about the methodology that had been used. Firstly, the survey appeared to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count. Our worries centred on the fact that the technique in question appeared to treat Iraq as if every area was one and the same. In terms of the level of conflict, that was definitely not the case. Secondly, the survey appeared to assume that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq. Again, that was not true. It had been focussed primarily on areas such as Fallujah. Consequently, we did not believe that extrapolation was an appropriate technique to use.
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