French referendum decision clouds EU future

15th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, July 15 (AFP) - France's announcement that it will hold a referendum on the European constitution was seen Thursday as a calculated gamble that will either enhance the popular legitimacy of the European Union or cause a major political crisis if the public rejects it.

BRUSSELS, July 15 (AFP) - France's announcement that it will hold a referendum on the European constitution was seen Thursday as a calculated gamble that will either enhance the popular legitimacy of the European Union or cause a major political crisis if the public rejects it.  

For the constitution, approved by EU leaders on June 18, to enter into effect, it will have to be ratified either through parliament or by popular referendum in all 25 EU nations within two years of its formal signing in Rome on October 29.  

In effect, officials said the process could survive if only one or two countries rejected the constitution.  

But if several countries, including a large founding member of the EU like France, voted against the constitution, the EU would be entering into uncharted territory.   The risk of rejection is not a remote hypothesis, particular since the notoriously sceptical British public will be given a voice.  

In Sweden, too, openly Eurosceptic groups urged Prime Minister Goeran Persson to hold a referendum.  

"I do not believe that the Swedish people will accept to remain on the sidelines while the citizens of other countries decide our future," said a spokesman for the Greens, Peter Eriksson.    

The government lost a referendum on whether to join the European single currency in September and, rather than risk another such defeat, is more likely to opt for ratification in parliament, political analysts told the TT news agency.  

In France, President Jacques Chirac said he was confident that his fellow citizens would understand that they would be voting on a question vital to their future and act accordingly.   

However, analysts warned that the vote could turn sour for Chirac if people used it to vote against him rather than in favour of Europe, which is what happened in the elections for the European Parliament last month.   

Apart from France and Britain, countries that are likely to hold a popular constitution vote include Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.   Denmark and Ireland have both voted against EU treaties, but reversed the vote when the question was put for a second time.  

But Blair has said he will regard the referendum vote as final, and it does not appear that France will do otherwise.  

The constitution itself contains an out. It states that if four-fifths of member states approve the treaty and the others reject it, the whole issue can be sent back to the European governments.   

The constitution even has a provision for countries to leave the EU -- but first it must be ratified.  

"A state that prevented the others to move forward would have to clarify its position," said one diplomat. "If there is only one no, one can imagine a workaround to resolve that country's problems. But if there are several no’s, then there will be no constitution."  

"At each stage there is a risk," the diplomat said. "On the other hand, if the result is positive, that will give tremendous force to the constitution."   No country has set a date yet for a referendum. Chirac said France would hold it late in 2005.  

One problem is that no country wants to be the first to risk a no vote and thus incur the opprobrium of its neighbours for having defeated a historic leap toward the unity of the continent.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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