French EU treaty 'Non' camp back in majority

16th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 16 (AFP) - Two new opinion polls released Monday indicated that a majority of French voters would reject the EU constitution, as official campaigning opened with less than two weeks to go before a May 29 referendum.

PARIS, May 16 (AFP) - Two new opinion polls released Monday indicated that a majority of French voters would reject the EU constitution, as official campaigning opened with less than two weeks to go before a May 29 referendum.  

Surveys conducted by the Ipsos and CSA institutes both suggested opponents of the landmark EU charter would carry the day with 51 percent of the vote. Both polls showed a jump in support for the 'no' camp.  

Of seven other surveys since the start of May, three predicted a win for the "yes", three for the "no" and one an even 50-50 split. Once the margin of error is factored in, the polls suggest a statistical dead heat.  

The French will vote on May 29 on the EU constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making in the European Union following last year's expansion of the bloc to the post-communist east and the Mediterranean.  

Official campaigning for the referendum began on Monday when rules governing access to broadcast media kicked in at midnight, granting radio and television slots to eight political parties based on performance in recent elections.  

As France's biggest parties - President Jacques Chirac's ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the opposition Socialists - support the treaty, the "yes" campaign will get roughly double the air time.  

The campaign has divided the country in two, pitting the UMP, the Socialists and the Greens against a disparate "no" camp that comprises far-left and far-right parties, along with a smattering of UMP and Socialist dissidents.  

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, triggering a period of confusion and paralysis inside the EU.  

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

The "no" campaign has been fuelled by widespread public discontent over decreasing purchasing power, unemployment hovering stubbornly around 10 percent and a fear of economic competition from central and eastern Europe.  

The government's unpopular decision to scrap a public holiday on Monday only added to mounting anger at Chirac's administration, and left authorities worried that the dispute could bolster the 'no' campaign.  

Pollsters agree the swing vote will come from Socialist party supporters tempted to vote "no" to a treaty which they see as a sell-out to US-style free-market economics - as argued by former prime minister Laurent Fabius.  

Opponents have repeatedly argued that the treaty could be renegotiated should the "no" camp prevail, but former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who led the convention that drafted the text, ruled out rewriting.  

"There will be no new text because it will be impossible to ask all the other countries - the majority who ratify the constitution - to forget their votes," he said.  

France's unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was knocked off the campaign trail last week after emergency gall bladder surgery, will make several appearances this week, including one on national television Tuesday.  

Whether or not France votes to approve the EU constitution, Raffarin's days as prime minister could be numbered, with Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin often cited as possible successors. 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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