Chirac, Jospin back together in bid to save treaty

24th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 24 (AFP) - With new opinion polls confirming the "no" camp's lead five days before France's referendum on the EU constitution, treaty supporters on Tuesday pulled out all the stops to win over key swing voters on the left.

PARIS, May 24 (AFP) - With new opinion polls confirming the "no" camp's lead five days before France's referendum on the EU constitution, treaty supporters on Tuesday pulled out all the stops to win over key swing voters on the left.  

The latest flurry of surveys, released late Monday, all indicated that opponents of the EU charter would win the day on May 29, with either 53 or 54 percent of the vote, but the number of undecided voters remained at 20 percent.  

With pollsters agreeing that sceptical yet generally pro-European Socialist party (PS) supporters will be the deciding factor on Sunday, former prime minister Lionel Jospin was to reach out to the crucial swing vote on Tuesday.  

Jospin's prime-time television appearance on TF1, along with a live address to the nation later this week by President Jacques Chirac, were seen as the "yes" campaign's best - and last - chances to rally unconvinced voters.  

"When the stakes are high, in a difficult battle, we can count on Lionel Jospin," Socialist lawmaker Daniel Vaillant, who is close to the ex-premier, told Europe 1 radio. "Left-wing voters are affected by what he says."  

According to a CSA survey, 53 percent of Socialist party supporters plan to vote "non" to the EU constitution. Jospin, whose previous campaign efforts have sparked a rise in support for the "yes" camp, is hoping to reverse the trend.  

The former premier, who suffered a humiliating defeat in the first round of the 2002 presidential election at the hands of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, is nevertheless viewed as an elder statesman capable of changing minds.  

Pierre Giacometti, director of the Ipsos polling institute, told Le Figaro newspaper that opposition to the EU constitution had strengthened on the left for a variety of reasons.  

He attributed the mood on the left to an "explosive mix of the increasing unpopularity of the government, the after-effects of the Pentecost Monday controversy and the effectiveness of arguments developed by the 'no' campaign".  

Some opponents of the treaty like former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius have argued that the EU constitution is a sell-out to US-style free market forces, and will threaten France's style of generous social welfare. 

"It's important that the 'no' vote be a no from the left, a Socialist no, a socially-conscious no," Fabius said at a rally in Reims, northeast of Paris. 

In addition, unemployment hovering at 10 percent, anger at corporate relocations and declining spending power have threatened to transform Sunday's referendum into a protest vote against Chirac's government.  

Socialist party leader Francois Hollande, who is campaigning with Chirac's ruling centre-right party for the text, tried Monday to defuse that argument, warning: "Being unhappy with the government is not a reason to vote no."  

With his legacy on the line, Chirac - after a first TV spot in April widely seen as unconvincing, and a second more highly-rated live interview in early May - has chosen to make his last-ditch appeal in a speech to the nation.  

"In Brussels, the president of the republic is the man who acts on France's behalf. If he can develop the reasons to vote yes, his speech on Thursday could be decisive," Stephane Rozes of the CSA polling institute told Le Parisien.  

Aides to Chirac said he hopes the speech, to be carried by television and radio stations nationwide, will "shed light on the choice of the French people" and "highlight what is at stake".  

The constitution, which aims to simplify the operating rules of the expanded European Union, must be approved by all 25 EU member states. So far, seven have ratified it.  

A rejection in a country as important as France - one of the six founding members of the bloc - would plunge both France and the European Union into political uncertainty.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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