Chirac calls EU referendum

15th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 14 (AFP) - Putting to rest months of speculation, French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday pledged to organize a referendum on ratifying the European Union's first constitution in the second half of 2005.

PARIS, July 14 (AFP) - Putting to rest months of speculation, French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday pledged to organize a referendum on ratifying the European Union's first constitution in the second half of 2005.  

"I have confidence in the French" that they will approve the constitution, Chirac said during a wide-ranging live televised interview on Bastille Day, France's national holiday.  

"I have confidence in their ability to join in a real debate on their future. The French people are directly concerned. They will therefore be directly consulted," he added.   Trying to breathe new life into his centre-right government at the midpoint of his second term in office, Chirac spoke at length on economic and social policy, calling for a softening of the controversial 35-hour work week.  

The 71-year-old French leader voiced his support for his unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and put his powerful Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, in his place.  

"I make decisions and he carries them out," Chirac said matter-of-factly.  

But the decision to call a referendum on the EU constitution was perhaps the most concrete - and surprising - statement the French leader made during the interview on TF1 and France 2 television, which lasted more than a hour.  

EU leaders agreed to the EU's first ever constitution after two years of wrangling at a historic summit in Brussels last month.  

The constitution, designed to shake up the expanding European Union's creaking institutions and prevent decision-making deadlock in the now 25-member bloc, must in theory be ratified by all EU member states to come into force.   

Analysts agree that a "no" vote in any one EU state could plunge the EU into a serious crisis.  

France joins Britain, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg which already have said they will organize a popular vote on the issue, while Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain may decide to do so.  

Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the author of the first draft of the historic EU text, called Chirac's decision "wise and natural", adding: "Of course, we'll have to win this one, for France and for Europe."  

Britain hailed the move, with the minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, telling AFP: "I am pleased at the courage of the president." 

Shifting to economic issues, Chirac called for a review of the role of the European Central Bank, saying the institution could not restrict itself to controlling inflation.  

"The European Central Bank cannot have price stability as its only and unique objective. This is one requirement but there is also growth and the management of European public finances depending on growth," Chirac said.  

He also said that economic growth was picking up in France at a higher rate than the average in Europe.  

When asked about the 35-hour working week, one of the key accomplishments of the previous Socialist government, Chirac said he would ask his government to launch talks with employers and union leaders on ways to relax the legislation, which industry leaders have said is hampering productivity.  

"Workers need more freedom, especially those who want to work more to earn more," he said. "Businesses also need more freedom in order to better adapt themselves to the market."  

He called for a "new approach" to the stubborn problem of unemployment, which is hovering at nearly 10 percent, lauding the government's proposed five-year social action plan to create jobs and public housing.  

"We must hold out our hands to people," Chirac said, reiterating the need for better job training and placement counselling for those on welfare.  

On other domestic hot-button issues, the French leader reiterated his support for a new law banning Islamic headscarves in state schools, saying: "All French people are equal before the law and all must respect the law."  

And he called the case of the 23-year-old woman who lied about being the victim of an anti-Semitic attack "regrettable", but insisted on the need for vigilance in the face of racism and anti-Semitism, on the rise in France.



Subject: French news



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