Chirac given thumbs down over plea for 'oui'

15th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac failed to persuade sceptical voters to support the landmark EU constitution in a crucial upcoming referendum despite an impassioned televised appeal, commentators said Friday.

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac failed to persuade sceptical voters to support the landmark EU constitution in a crucial upcoming referendum despite an impassioned televised appeal, commentators said Friday.  

"Chirac struggles", read the front-page headline of the popular daily Le Parisien, while the conservative Le Figaro entitled its commentary: "A missed opportunity".  

In a high-stakes two-hour live television appearance late Thursday aimed at jumpstarting the flailing 'yes' campaign, Chirac warned that a 'no' vote would weaken France's influence and make it the "black sheep" of the European Union.  

He insisted the treaty could not be renegotiated if the 'no' camp were to prevail, but ruled out resigning should voters reject the text on May 29.  

"The head of state may not have succeeded," Le Figaro said in its editorial.  

"Jolted by a badly designed TV program, he never got the chance to develop his arguments, other than to say that Europe would not be liberal, that we would be spared the Anglo-Saxon model and that we should not be afraid."  

Speaking to a group of 80 young adults handpicked for the occasion, Chirac said France's influence in Europe would be diminished and European integration brought to a halt should voters reject the constitution.  

"The reality is that you would have 24 countries that voted yes and then the black sheep that blocked everything", he said.  

"France would be considerably weakened," he warned, adding that within Europe, "France would cease to exist politically."  

"European construction would stop," he said, adding: "The argument that we could renegotiate (the treaty) is not a serious one."  

"Let's not be afraid," he urged the audience.  

The constitution, which aims to streamline decision-making in the expanded 25-member European Union, must be ratified by all member states. A rejection in France, one of the EU's largest countries, would effectively kill the treaty.  

Since mid-March, more than a dozen opinion polls have indicated that French voters will reject the constitution in May. The most recent survey, published Thursday, put support for the 'no' camp at 55 percent.  

But the left-leaning Liberation noted that "even the best arguments in favor of the constitution are not enough to triumph over the deep anxiety" currently permeating French society.  

"Like an old player who has bet a lot, lost a lot and always rebounded, Chirac found himself last night in the middle of one of his favourite games, electoral poker," Liberation said in its commentary.  

"He knows that if he loses this hand, it will be the last one he plays. And he also knows that he has a lot of bad cards - social discontent, a rough economy, widespread pessimism - not to mention the polls favouring 'no'."  

The French president on Thursday implored voters not to turn the referendum into a protest vote against the centre-right government's gradual economic reforms, stubborn unemployment and decreasing purchasing power.  

"Domestic policy has its own rules, rhythms and demands," he said.  

"At the moment when we are about to make a fundamental decision for the future of our country, for the future of Europe... I don't want that to be mixed up with the day-to-day politics of a European country," Chirac said.  

Like Le Figaro, Le Parisien criticized the forum of the live forum, saying the French leader had found himself "trapped in a complicated, chaotic and ultimately disappointing program".  

Education Minister Francois Fillon said Chirac was "convincing", but admitted that "more programs will undoubtedly be needed" if the French president hoped to sway voters to say 'yes' to the European constitution.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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