Europe rings alarm bells as France heads for 'non'

17th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

LUXEMBOURG, April 16 (AFP) - The European Union struggled Saturday to contain mounting alarm at signs that French voters could reject the EU constitution, in what would be a devastating blow for the expanding bloc.

LUXEMBOURG, April 16 (AFP) - The European Union struggled Saturday to contain mounting alarm at signs that French voters could reject the EU constitution, in what would be a devastating blow for the expanding bloc.  

EU foreign ministers voiced concern about the French threat after new opinion polls showed a majority of voters planning to vote "non" in a May 29 referendum, despite a personal appeal by President Jacques Chirac.  

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said he did not want to "intervene in French affairs" but stressed that the referendum would be crucial for the whole of Europe.  

"The vote in France is a decisive ballot," he said. "I am assuming that the French people will say yes, because the world will not wait for Europe... If France says no, it will be difficult."  

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.  

French President Jacques Chirac, alarmed at a series of polls indicating a "no" vote, launched a personal effort to persuade voters this week, warning on television that France would be turned into the "black sheep" of Europe.  

But two new opinion polls Saturday indicated opposition to the EU constitution had increased to 56 percent of voters.   French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier warned that Paris has no plan B if voters reject the EU constitution, reiterating that a "no" would seriously weaken France.  

"We have put everything on the table. There will not be another constitution," he said. "There cannot be any other discussions for a very long time."  

Dutch minister Bernard Bot - whose country is due to hold a referendum, albeit a non-binding one, two days after the French ballot - said EU leaders were watching the situation in France closely.  

"I think we have to listen very carefully to what people are saying," he said.  

Slovenia's Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said he was "extremely worried" by the latest French polls.  

In particular he said it would seriously cloud the EU's continued expansion plans. "There is no theoretical obstacle to further enlargement ... But politically this would be a disaster," he said.  

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner meanwhile added that the new constitution was crucial to bolster the EU's role on the world stage.  

"We need this constitution, because it will allow Europe to play a solid role in the world," she said.  

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, whose country was the biggest of 10 mostly ex-communist states to join the EU last year, also said a French "no" would "lead to complications."  

French opponents of the EU constitution claim it will boost the "anglo-saxon" freemarket economic model and erode their long-cherished European "social model" protecting workers' rights.  

British Europe minister Denis MacShane - whose notoriously euro-sceptic country is due to hold a referendum in the first half of next year - said he could sympathize with French leaders.  

"The French have actually suddenly discovered in the last few months ... what I've had to live with almost my entire life in British politics: the mythologizing of the EU," he told reporters.  

The French foreign minister insisted public opinion in his country can still be turned round. "Every French person must take responsibility. That is the choice on May 29," he said.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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