France now at the brink of rejecting EU constitution

23rd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 22 (AFP) - France entered a frenetic last week of campaigning Sunday ahead of next weekend's referendum on the EU's constitutional treaty, with polls continuing to point to a stunning defeat for President Jacques Chirac and other supporters of the text.

PARIS, May 22 (AFP) - France entered a frenetic last week of campaigning Sunday ahead of next weekend's referendum on the EU's constitutional treaty, with polls continuing to point to a stunning defeat for President Jacques Chirac and other supporters of the text.  

Two new opinion polls Sunday gave the "no" camp 52 percent against 48 percent for supporters of the treaty, bringing to seven the number of surveys in the last week to predict a victory for the opposition. None has found for the "yes" camp.  

With the odds shortening for a major electoral upheaval on May 29, both sides were geared for an intensive week of rallies and media appearances in order to win over wavering voters - estimated at between a fifth and a third of the public - and ensure a high turnout by the faithful.  

Chirac's office announced that the president will make another personal intervention during the days ahead, though it did not specify when or in what form.  

The campaign for the referendum has turned into one of the most hard-fought political battles of recent years in France, with both camps sensing that it is a moment to define the country's identity and relationship with the rest of the world.  

While supporters of the European Union constitution say it is a chance to entrench French influence in a bloc that now encompasses the countries of the former Soviet east, for opponents it is a sell-out to "liberal" economic forces that spells the end of France's generous social model.  

The arguments have dominated public life for weeks, with many people acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the constitution's four sections and 448 articles.  

Pro- and anti posters plaster city walls, newspapers print daily commentaries on key issues, radio talk shows feature often angry rows between the two sides, while editions of the constitution and books of explanatory notes dominate the best-seller lists.  

The constitution was thrashed out over four years by a committee headed by former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and is meant to simplify decision-making in a body that will soon contain 27 members. When France helped launch the predecessor European Economic Community in 1957, there were six.  

The text must be approved by all states, either by parliamentary vote or popular referendum, before coming into effect. Even though he was not obliged to, Chirac chose to put it to the country - but he has been taken by surprise by a surge in support for the "no" camp.  

The rejectionists in France stretch from the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen to the Trotskyist far-left. There are also nationalist Eurosceptics led by the European deputy Philippe de Villiers and Gaullist dissidents inside Chirac's ruling Union for a Popular Movement.  

But the hinge group of electors is on the mainstream pro-European left, where the opposition Socialist party is divided by a poisonous internal row. A leadership in favour of the constitution is defied by former prime minister Laurent Fabius who has more than half of party supporters behind him.   In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche,

Fabius said that without a rewriting of the constitution the expansion of the EU can only lead to the "delocalisation" of more jobs and businesses from high-regulation countries like France to low-cost economies like Poland and Hungary.  

"We cannot put all the workers of Europe and the world in open competition and say 'Let the cheapest win!" ... A 'no' vote will not magically resolve all our problems but it will be an important step to a Europe that serves Europeans," he said.  

The rejectionist camp has been reinforced by a widespread mood of discontent in France, fed by 10.2 percent unemployment and stalling economic growth.   

The unpopularity of Chirac and his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, is also a factor, with a survey Sunday revealing that the president's approval ratings plunged five points to 39 percent over the last month while Raffarin's fell to just 24 percent.  

Another poll showed that 69 percent of the French public believes the constitution can be redrafted - even though European leaders all say the text is a finely-balanced compromise which cannot be changed to take account of one nation's objections.  

Over the weekend Chirac issued an appeal for a "yes" vote to residents of France's overseas departments and territories - including Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana and French Polynesia -  whose 1.4 million voters provide crucial support if the result is tight.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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