Allo, allo? It's the French EU treaty helpline…

23rd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 22 (AFP) - Some want to know what the treaty's text means; others just want to vent their anger. French citizens calling the helpline on the EU constitution have let loose a barrage of questions, fears and emotions ahead of next Sunday's referendum.

PARIS, May 22 (AFP) - Some want to know what the treaty's text means; others just want to vent their anger. French citizens calling the helpline on the EU constitution have let loose a barrage of questions, fears and emotions ahead of next Sunday's referendum.  

"Is it true someone from Poland can work in France at the Polish pay rate?" the caller asks. "No, madame," the call centre worker answers patiently.  

"Why is the constitution not translated into Breton?" another caller asks.  

"It's not an official European Union language, sir."  

As the divisive campaign enters its final phase before the referendum, teams of young lawyers man the telephones to try to help French voters understand the treaty, which aims to streamline decision-making in the expanded 25-member EU.  

The call centre was set up by the government of President Jacques Chirac, whose centre-right party is campaigning for the treaty alongside the opposition Socialists, but influencing undecided voters before May 29 is not its mission.  

Jeanne Rousseau, who heads a team at the Paris centre, said the legal experts steer clear of the politics surrounding the EU charter.  

"We keep ourselves to the text of the treaty, with what it says and does not say. The interpretations of what it implies, we leave that to the politicians," Rousseau said.  

The main issues raised by the callers concern the outsourcing of jobs to other countries where wages are lower and Turkey's possible accession to the EU, according to Rousseau.  

Voters are also concerned about the separation of church and state and abortion rights.  

Since the constitution information centre opened on January 10, the number of callers peaked at 8,000 a day, once the centre's phone number was advertised on radio and television.  

For the mainly twentysomething lawyers who field the callers' questions, like 23-year-old Bruno Philip, they consider participation in the campaign as part of their professional training.  

As Miroslava Miteva, a 26-year-old Franco-Bulgarian, put it, the work is "preparation for the future." Bulgaria is expected to join the EU in 2007.  

In any event, the helpline can be a tough training ground for young lawyers when an irate citizen is on the other end of the line.  

Some callers do more than rail against the current government. They express racist and xenophobic sentiments and "let off steam against us that is staggering," said Anne Maltoni, 27.  

But there can be a lighter side. Teenagers have been using the helpline as a study aid when writing papers about the constitution, a topic "very much in vogue" in French high schools at the moment, Rousseau said.  

It's not only students that need help understanding the treaty. One caller asked that Foreign Minister Michel Barnier explain the charter, warning: "Above all, don't ask the French to read the text..."

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article