French churches urge 'oui' to EU charter

29th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) - Leaders of France's Christian churches on Tuesday urged voters in May's referendum to back the European Union's new constitution, arguing that it will safeguard social and economic advances made over the last half century.

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) - Leaders of France's Christian churches on Tuesday urged voters in May's referendum to back the European Union's new constitution, arguing that it will safeguard social and economic advances made over the last half century.    

With recent polls showing a majority of the French opposed to the text, the Council of Christian Churches (CECEF) said that the constitution "brings substantial improvements to existing treaties ... and places man at the heart of European construction."  

"As Christians we cannot be disinterested; we cannot turn our back," it said in a statement.  

"Europe today faces the challenge of ensuring the well-being of all its inhabitants and at the same time contributing to the peace and development of the rest of the world," said the Council, which brings together the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches.  

"France, as a founding country, and the French people have a particular responsibility to rise to the challenge," it said.  

Recognising that "the European project today excites little enthusiasm," the Council argued that the EU has nonetheless "brought us the peace which was the first challenge of the founders.  

"It has allowed not just economic development but also the establishment of a social model for which we are widely envied: health care, social protection and education that are accessible for all."  

The churches urged voters to vote on the text of the constitution itself, "without being distracted by side-issues" such as the debate over Turkey's membership of the EU.  

A large majority of the French are against Turkish entry, and supporters of the constitution fear that could influence the vote on May 29.   

A fourth poll in 10 days on Tuesday showed most voters planning to vote against the constitution in May, despite the support of the government of President Jacques Chirac as well as the leadership of the opposition Socialists.  

The constitution is intended to streamline decision-making in the expanding bloc, and must be ratified by all 25 member states. A rejection in France would stop the process in its tracks.  

After long debate during the writing of the constitution, the text bears no explicit reference to the continent's Christian heritage - though the preamble states that the EU draws its "inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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