France revs up to lobby for elusive 'yes' on EU charter

28th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 28 (AFP) - The French government on Monday kick-started its campaign for a "yes" to the European constitution, after a string of recent polls showed that a majority of voters would reject the EU treaty.

PARIS, March 28 (AFP) - The French government on Monday kick-started its campaign for a "yes" to the European constitution, after a string of recent polls showed that a majority of voters would reject the EU treaty.

President Jacques Chirac, wrapping up a three-day visit to Japan, took the lead, urging a sceptical electorate not to use the May 29 referendum on the constitution to protest the policies of his centre-right government.

"I shall tell the French people why in my view it is in the interest of France and Europe but also of peace, development and the preservation of our social model to say yes to the constitutional treaty," he said in Tokyo.

Chirac has staked his prestige on a "yes" to the European constitution, which is aimed at streamlining decision-making in the expanded 25-member European Union.

But in the past 10 days, four opinion polls have shown that a majority of French voters will reject the constitutional treaty.

The most recent, an Ipsos poll to be published Tuesday in Le Figaro newspaper, confirmed the trend, with 54 percent of those planning to vote saying they would reject the landmark text.

Several explanations have emerged for the rise of the "no" camp including the unpopularity of Chirac's government, fears over Turkish entry into the EU and a controversial proposal to free up the EU's vast services sector.

The constitution must be ratified by all 25 EU countries to come into force. A "no" vote in France, one of the EU's founding member states, would effectively kill the constitution and throw the EU into crisis.

Chirac said the French public should not turn the referendum into a vote on an amalgam of issues, telling an economic forum in Tokyo: "My concern is that this response (in the referendum) be on no concerns other than European ones.

"The question being asked is: Do you support a constitutional treaty that modernises and makes more efficient the common administration of tomorrow's Europe? It is not on other reasons, be they political, economic or social."

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso last week called on French leaders to work to "end misunderstandings" about the EU constitution, and urged voters to "show their commitment to Europe".

Following the long Easter weekend, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will this week try to revive the faltering "yes" campaign, participating in a series of debates on the text and dispatching his ministers to do the same.

"Five hundred meetings are on the calendar. I personally will participate in more than 20 events to explain what is at stake," Raffarin said last week on private television network TF1.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has a marathon agenda of 70 meetings in the next two months before the vote. European affairs minister Claudie Haignere will play a key campaign role, along with cooperation minister Xavier Darcos.

Nicolas Sarkozy, Chirac's arch-rival and head of the ruling conservative UMP party, will also urge French voters to say "yes" to the European constitution in a live television appearance late Thursday on state-owned France 2.

The opposition Socialist party (PS), officially campaigning for the treaty but riven by an internal split on the issue, will also take to the streets, with leader Francois Hollande in the southern port of Marseille on Thursday.

In Japan, Chirac took his pitch directly to the voters at a gathering of several hundred members of the 7,500-strong French community in the country.

"Allow me to use this meeting to ask you, without exception, to exercise your duty as citizens on May 29 and express yourselves on this crucial issue for the future of our country and for the French people," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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