France's status at risk over EU charter, warns Chirac

23rd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, March 23 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac warned Wednesday that France's standing in Europe could suffer if French voters reject the European Union (EU)'s first-ever constitution in an upcoming referendum.

BRUSSELS, March 23 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac warned Wednesday that France's standing in Europe could suffer if French voters reject the European Union (EU)'s first-ever constitution in an upcoming referendum.

He made the comments at the end of a two-day EU summit clouded by recent polls suggestion that French voters would deliver a shock "no" vote to the historic text in a May 29 referendum.

"It's clear that if France blocks the construction of Europe today, the consequences will not be negligible and (France) will lose a large part of the authority it needs in the Europe of tomorrow," he told reporters.

Polls at the end of last week and again on Monday indicated that a majority - 51 or 52 percent - of French voters could oppose the the EU's first-ever constitution in the May referendum.

The historic document, signed amid much fanfare in Rome last October, needs to ratified by all 25 member states to come into force.

Nearly half the EU's member states have decided to ratify the constitution by referendum, with doubts notably focused on notoriously eurosceptic Britain which is due to vote in the first half of next year.

But it is widely agreed that a "no" in a large EU founder state like France would kill it dead, forcing the EU to muddle along with its current creaking institutional framework.

Most of the growth in the "no" camp in recent weeks has come on the political left, with a debate over the EU's controversial "open services" directive acting as a red rag for groups who believe the EU has already sold out to "Anglo-Saxon" business interests.

Pressure was growing on Chirac to step into the debate, after supporters of the constitution complained that the "yes" campaign has failed to get off the ground.

Chirac sought on Wednesday to dispel fears in France over the constitution, saying: "I believe this current constitutional treaty marks progress in social, economic and foreign matters".

He insisted that "France has everything to gain and nothing to lose from the European constitution".

Earlier, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called on the French people to "show their commitment to Europe" when they vote in the referendum on May 29.

Chirac's words came after French opponents of the EU constitution this week accused their government of illegal propaganda for issuing a pre-referendum information dossier which they say is clearly biased towards the "yes" camp.

Philippe de Villiers, who heads the anti-EU Movement for France, filed suit before the Constitutional Council - the body that supervises elections in France - claiming that a text that accompanies a copy of the EU constitution "is of a nature to pervert the sincerity of the vote."

The controversial document - entitled a "presentation of motives" - is contained in a dossier to be sent out to France's 42 million voters by May 14 - two weeks ahead of the referendum.

It states that the constitutional treaty will allow an expanding Europe "to respond to new hopes: more freedom and security, more growth and solidarity, a stronger presence in the world, protection of the environment, defense of our identity, respect for cultural diversity."

In conclusion it says that the constitution, "by reinforcing what has already been achieved in Europe, allows it to pursue its progress to the benefit of each one of its peoples."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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