French Socialists vote 'yes' on EU constitution

2nd December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 2 (AFP) - To the great relief of European governments, France's opposition Socialist party (PS) has voted to campaign in favour of the EU's proposed constitutional treaty when it is put to a national referendum next year, according to provisional results released Thursday.

PARIS, Dec 2 (AFP) - To the great relief of European governments, France's opposition Socialist party (PS) has voted to campaign in favour of the EU's proposed constitutional treaty when it is put to a national referendum next year, according to provisional results released Thursday.

Some 59 percent of PS members supported the text in an internal ballot conducted on Wednesday - an unexpectedly clear victory which is a major boost to the constitution's chances of being approved across the 25 member states.

"This is a great step forward towards the definitive adoption of the constitution by referendum," said former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who headed the European committee that drew up the 300-page document.

"It will be hailed in Europe as the confirmation of France's founding commitment to the European Union. It shows that the European ideal is steadily taking root in the political conscience of the French people ... France is a beacon on this issue," he said.

The president of the European commission in Brussels Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, said he was delighted with the vote.

"The positive signal given by French Socialist party members will have resonance across the European Union. It is part of what is now a trans-European debate on the kind of Europe we want," he said.

With the governing UMP party of President Jacques Chirac and the main opposition party - as well as the Greens and the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) - now all campaigning for the constitution, it looks increasingly unlikely that the agreement will be rejected in France.

"This is good news for Europe," Chirac said after meeting Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Germany. "Now it's up to all French men and women to make their mark next year on a question of crucial importance for our common future."

Designed to ensure that the expanded EU has the necessary mechanisms to operate effectively, the constitution was signed by heads of government in Rome last month but must now be formally ratified in all member states.

There were real concerns that if the PS voted against the text, it could tip the balance inside France - where opposition to the European project is strong at both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.

The "yes" vote enhanced the authority of PS leader Francois Hollande who led the campaign in favour of the constitution, and was a severe blow to his deputy, former prime minister Laurent Fabius, who allied himself with the left wing of the party to oppose it.

Hollande said the results were a "victory for Europe, for democracy and for the Socialist party."

The PS leader has led his party to a series of electoral successes - they won European and regional elections this year - and his chances of becoming candidate for the 2007 presidential race have been further improved by the ballot on the constitution.

Fabius issued a statement saying he had "taken note with regret" of the result.

"Conscious as I am of the dangers posed by this constitution, my regret would have been even greater had I not done what I could to explain to the Socialists and to the French public the reasons which justify its rejection," he said.

Fabius and the left of the Socialist party argued that the constitution would entrench American-style free-market economics at the heart of the European Union, and spell an end for efforts to improve social equality.

But supporters said that even if the text was not perfect it represented a further advance towards the objective of European integration, to which the PS had always subscribed. They also appear to have won many votes by stressing the dangers to party unity if the constitution were rejected.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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