France warned of crisis if EU treaty rejected

18th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 18 (AFP) - Supporters of the EU constitution, struggling to regain momentum in France 10 days before a crucial referendum, on Wednesday warned of political and economic crisis should voters reject the treaty.

PARIS, May 18 (AFP) - Supporters of the EU constitution, struggling to regain momentum in France 10 days before a crucial referendum, on Wednesday warned of political and economic crisis should voters reject the treaty.  

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso cautioned that a "no" vote would mean "bad news for the economy, both in France and Europe" - a stark message also hammered home by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.  

Raffarin, who returned to the campaign trail late Tuesday 10 days after emergency gall bladder surgery, warned that rejection of the EU charter on May 29 would weaken France within Europe and spark domestic confusion.  

"The political shock would naturally cause chaos, and we would especially suffer in the economic arena," Raffarin told a "yes" campaign rally in the southwest city of Bordeaux.  

"If there were a political crisis in Europe, we would have to endure long, long months of economic crisis, with all of the consequences that we unfortunately understand," he said.  

With recent opinion polls showing the "no" camp with a slight edge, due in part to the increasing unpopularity of Raffarin's government, the "yes' campaign is playing the drama card to regain the upper hand.  

President Jacques Chirac's ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is campaigning alongside the opposition Socialists and Greens for the treaty, which aims to simplify decision-making in the expanded European Union.  

They are locking horns with a disparate "no" camp made up of the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Communist and Trotskyite parties, nationalist Eurosceptics, and a smattering of UMP and Socialist dissidents.  

The "yes" campaign has won support from an array of European politicians, from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to Barroso, whose relations with Paris have been frosty.  

Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, former Spanish premier Felipe Gonzales and former Portuguese president Mario Soares were to join leading French Socialists for a "yes' rally late Wednesday in Paris.  

"Everyone will be watching the result of the referendum in France, in Europe and beyond. If, unfortunately, the no were to prevail, that would be perceived as a weakness, for France and for Europe," Barroso told Europe 1 radio.  

Raffarin and Barroso both dismissed the idea of a "plan B" should voters reject the treaty, a concept seized upon in recent days by opponents of the constitution as proof that the treaty could be renegotiated in France's favour.  

"It's a lie to say there is a plan B. We have a treaty that took a lot of time to be drafted, negotiated, signed and that must now be ratified. There is no alternative treaty," Raffarin said in an interview on France 2 television.  

Barroso chimed in: "I don't think that the majority of EU countries are ready to renegotiate. Frankly, that's not an option."  

The constitution must be ratified by all 25 member states, and a rejection by so important a country as France would leave the treaty dead in its tracks.  

Rejection of the charter would also have a profound political impact within France, with Chirac's credibility - and legacy - hinging on a "yes" vote and rumours swirling of a possible government reshuffle, no matter what the result.  

With opinion polls reflecting the deep divisions in the country over the constitution - and the tight race ahead - the left-leaning newspaper Liberation praised the revival of nationwide political debate.  

"The French were tired of politics... and then the referendum came along. Debate took off. A taste for politics has returned," the paper said in a commentary.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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