French referendum on EU tipped for May

3rd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac looked poised Thursday to declare a date for the French referendum on adopting the nascent EU constitution after calling various party leaders to his office for consultations.

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac looked poised Thursday to declare a date for the French referendum on adopting the nascent EU constitution after calling various party leaders to his office for consultations.

The anticipated plebiscite could be held as early as May, several of the politicians said after the meetings.

Chirac, who has placed his influence and personal prestige on the line for a 'yes' vote, has speeded up the ratification process of the proposed EU charter after the publication of surveys showing public opposition to it was on the rise.

Polls last month showed support had slipped to 58 percent while the 'no' camp could now count on 42 percent of voters.

Aware that a 'no' vote would torpedo the adoption of the EU constitution - which requires approval in all 25 EU states for it to come into effect - Chirac brought forward an extraordinary meeting of both houses of parliament at the palace of Versailles on Monday that altered the French constitution to allow the national consultation to go ahead.

To convince the public, though, he and his centre-right government will have to overcome an increasingly agitated electorate upset by economic and labour reforms and by Chirac's push to one day see Turkey be given EU membership.

Anti-government street demonstrations have been gaining momentum in recent weeks and look to reach a crescendo March 10, when a national strike has been called, largely to condemn government moves to undermine the popular 35 hour work-week.

The main parties, Chirac's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the opposition Socialists, have declared themselves for a 'yes' vote, though both have dissident members who say they are firmly against.

The head of the Republican and Citizen Movement allied to the UMP, Georges Sarre, said after seeing the president Thursday that he had suggested that the referendum would take place "the 19th of June, or maybe the 12th".

But he said Chirac had told him that the proposals of other political parties across the spectrum "are not all coinciding".

"I don't know if he has decided (on a date). He indicated that there was a majority which seemed to be leaning more towards the end of May," Sarre said.

The chief of the small Radical Left Party, Jean-Michel Baylet, said he thought Chirac was looking at "the last two Sunday of May or the first Sunday of June" and reaffirmed his party was strongly in favour of a 'yes' result.

Marie-George Buffet, the head of the Communist Party, said she had called on Chirac to allow a real "public debate" amid the heavy campaigning about to be unleashed.

"We can't rush pell-mell towards a referendum where the 'yes' will win with a turnout of less than 50 percent," she said.

"That's not how we are going to build a Europe able to face the future."

Chirac, she said, "told me I was a little isolated and that the other party leaders that he had seen were mostly for a referendum in May."

"Whatever the result, I believe it will be important for Europe. I am going to fight to the end for a 'no' result, but at least let's make sure this Europe involves the citizens and is built with them," she added.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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