French 'oui' campaigners now admitting defeat

25th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 25 (AFP) - Torn between resignation and desperation, supporters of the EU constitution in France were engaged in a last-ditch attempt Wednesday to reverse the lead of the "no" camp ahead of this weekend's referendum.

PARIS, May 25 (AFP) - Torn between resignation and desperation, supporters of the EU constitution in France were engaged in a last-ditch attempt Wednesday to reverse the lead of the "no" camp ahead of this weekend's referendum.  

With the last 10 opinion polls all suggesting that the constitutional treaty will be rejected in Sunday's vote, the first signs of despondency and recrimination were creeping into the "yes" campaign.  

Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, told an ill-tempered cabinet meeting on Tuesday that he no longer believed the "yes" would win, a colleague told AFP.  

"I keep on telling you that the thing is lost," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in an angry outburst.  

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who led the drafting of the text, said the failures of the "yes" campaign were partly the result of a lack of European enthusiasm on the part of the country's leaders.  

"Our current rulers are of course believers in the idea of Europe, but in their heart of hearts they are not men and women who are inspired by a European feeling," he told Les Echos newspaper.  

"When we encounter difficulties, they are too ready to blame Europe. So it is hardly a surprise that the French have a bad idea of the European Union," the 79-year-old former president said.  

But speaking on the LCI television news channel, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said that with 20 percent of the electorate telling pollsters they were undecided it was foolish to give up hope.  

"It's not over yet. It's not over until the people have spoken. It's always the case that many people leave it till the last minute to make up their minds," said Raffarin, who is widely expected to leave office after Sunday whatever the outcome of the referendum.  

Supporters of the constitution were banking on last-minute televised interventions by President Jacques Chirac and the former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin to shore up their vote.   

Speaking on the main television evening news programme Tuesday, Jospin - a widely respected figure on the French left - said that a "no" vote would leave France isolated and its European partners bewildered.  

Listing the political leaders who back the "no" - including far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Communist and Trotskyite party chiefs and the dissident Socialist Laurent Fabius - he said they could have no coherent alternative to the constitution.  

"All these 'no's are incompatible and absolutely unrealistic ... What are we going to do with them - put them in a cocktail shaker, mix them up, then ask the president to present this shaker to our astonished European partners?  

"I think such an attitude will not just isolate France but leave us incomprehensible to the other Europeans," Jospin said.  

Chirac was due to appear on national television on Thursday evening.  

Drawn up after four years of laborious negotiations, the EU's constitution is meant to streamline decision-making in the expanding bloc but must first be ratified by all 25 member states.  

In France approval was initially seen as a foregone conclusion, but over two months of campaigning the opposition has surged in polls - buoyed by widespread public discontent, fear of unemployment and falling real wages, and anxiety about new competition from the low-cost economies of eastern Europe.  

A "no" vote in so important a country as France would trigger a period of paralysis inside the European Union, and have huge repercussions on the domestic political scene. 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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