French hostility to EU treaty deepens in polls

5th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 5 (AFP) - France's National Assembly began a debate on the European Union's new constitution Tuesday, as three more opinion polls showed opponents winning the country's referendum on May 29.

PARIS, April 5 (AFP) - France's National Assembly began a debate on the European Union's new constitution Tuesday, as three more opinion polls showed opponents winning the country's referendum on May 29.

Over the last two weeks a total of nine surveys have put the "no" camp in front, at between 51 and 55 percent of voters. None has given the lead to supporters of the constitution.

An Ipsos poll in Le Figaro newspaper Tuesday put opposition to the constitution at 52 percent; a CSA poll for France 3 television put it at 53 percent; and Louis Harris for the Liberation newspaper gave the "no" 54 percent.

The slim positive news for President Jacques Chirac and other supporters of the constitution was that in the first two polls the number of "no" voters fell by two points from similar surveys a week before.

The polls also indicated that between a quarter and a third of people who intend to cast a vote are undecided - with a majority of these tending towards a "yes" vote.

Opening the evening debate in the lower house of parliament, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the referendum "is a choice between an opening for the future and the impasse of the present ... Saying yes to the new Europe means saying yes to France, because a no vote would weaken France."

But Communist party (PCF) national secretary Marie-George Buffet said a "no" vote was a "vote for hope in Europe."

"The constitution would deepen the furrow that has been dug for decades, by inscribing liberalism in marble. The wonderful idea of Europe has served as a Trojan horse for the most unrestrained liberalism," she said.

"Our people has a historic chance - to change completely the direction of European construction," she said.

Opposition to the EU's constitutional treaty spread across France with sudden rapidity in the second half of March, fed by a groundswell of anti-government feeling and unease about the country's future in the expanding bloc.

The sharpest growth in "no" votes has been on the political left. According to Ipsos, 53 percent of Socialist party (PS) voters are planning to vote against the constitution, despite an official recommendation from the leadership to vote "yes".

"The 'no' vote has become fashionable," said the left-wing Liberation newspaper Tuesday. "It is as if saying 'no' to the constitution is the best way to express one's fears over a future that appears more and more uncertain."

The constitution is intended to streamline decision-making in the 25-member union, but will not come into effect unless it is ratified in every country. A rejection in so important a country as France would stop it in its tracks.

Chirac had intended to enter the fray on Thursday in a televised discussion with young people, but the appointment was pushed back by a week so the president can attend Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome.

Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) supports the constitution, with just a handful of dissidents, as does its ally the Union for French Democracy (UDF). The opposition PS is in favour - but has a substantial minority who are opposed - and so are the Greens.

The only parliamentary group that rejects the constitution is the Communist party.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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