Chirac swings back after TV appeal for treaty

4th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 4 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday earned high marks in the press for his second television appearance in defence of the EU constitution, as opinion polls show that the 'yes' camp is gaining momentum.

PARIS, May 4 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday earned high marks in the press for his second television appearance in defence of the EU constitution, as opinion polls show that the 'yes' camp is gaining momentum.  

With less than four weeks to go before French voters cast their ballots on the European Union's constitution in a May 29 referendum, Chirac erased memories of his lacklustre April 14 appearance with a strong showing Tuesday.  

"He definitely didn't surprise anyone, but -- much more relaxed -- he scored some points," the popular Le Parisien newspaper said of Chirac's live 50-minute interview with two journalists from state-owned France 2.  

For Le Figaro, Chirac also "seemed much more relaxed" than he did last month, when he made the case for the constitution before a live studio audience of 80 young adults, an appearance widely seen as awkward and unconvincing.  

Perhaps more importantly, he seemed "more presidential as well", Le Figaro said.   "From his point of view, he undoubtedly fulfilled some of his goals," the afternoon newspaper Le Monde said, explaining that Chirac has succeeded in refocusing the debate on the EU text and communicating a more positive message.  

The French president, whose political legacy is riding on the outcome of the EU referendum, made an impassioned plea for the text late Tuesday, saying it was "the best possible constitution for France".  

He appealed to undecided voters on the political left by saying the charter would mark "a decisive step toward a more socially conscious situation" in the expanded 25-member bloc.  

"This constitution combines the demands of a large market with the demands of social harmonization," he said. "We are creating a united Europe of states and people, and not at all a United States of Europe."  

"You can't say 'I'm a European' and 'I'm voting no'," the French leader said in the interview, broadcast from his Elysee palace.  

In a bid to sway voters on the right, he lauded the constitution as the "daughter of 1989", the year the Berlin Wall fell, and "especially the daughter of 1789", referring to the French Revolution.  

"This constitution is essentially of French inspiration," Chirac said, adding that the treaty was "neither on the right nor the left".  

The left-leaning newspaper Liberation noted Chirac's dual approach, saying he had delivered "a message especially aimed at the Gaullist-nationalist electorate ... and at Socialist voters tempted by the 'no' camp".  

Chirac and the "yes" camp have received a boost in recent days from three opinion polls showing that a majority of French voters will approve the constitution on May 29, after more than 20 surveys showing the "no" in front.  

The financial daily La Tribune said the president had gone "on the offensive" with confidence.  

Chirac even earned praise from political opponents like former Socialist finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who said the French leader had "finally expressed himself well about Europe".  

Predictably, the president's detractors criticized his performance, with former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius saying he "is someone who lies with incredible self-assurance".  

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen alleged: "Citizens saw a clear illustration of the totalitarian character of a constitution that is fundamentally hostile to national liberties."  

All 25 EU member states must approve the constitutional treaty - aimed at simplifying decision-making in the bloc - either by popular referendum or parliamentary vote.  

If such a heavyweight EU member as France were to reject the constitution, many observers believe the treaty would be stopped in its tracks.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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