French say 'non' to EU constitution: poll

18th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 18 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Friday he was "concerned" but not "worried" after a poll indicated for the first time that French voters could reject the EU constitution in a referendum.

PARIS, March 18 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Friday he was "concerned" but not "worried" after a poll indicated for the first time that French voters could reject the EU constitution in a referendum.

"This possibility does not sadden me. It concerns me but it doesn't worry me because the uncertainty of the referendum is necessary so that each French citizen feels he or she has a historic role to play," Raffarin said.

A poll published Friday in the popular Le Parisien daily revealed that 51 percent of French voters would vote "no" to the EU constitution in a referendum to be held on May 29 - the first poll to suggest a negative outcome.

The survey, carried out by the CSA polling institute, represented a five-point slip in support for the treaty as compared with a separate TNS-Sofres/Unilog poll published earlier this week.

The CSA poll, carried out Wednesday and Thursday, also revealed what could be a high abstention rate - 53 percent of respondents said they would cast blank ballots or not vote at all.

President Jacques Chirac has staked his personal prestige on a "yes" vote to the treaty, which aims to streamline decision-making in the European Union following its expansion from 15 to 25 members last year.

But the French public - angry about high unemployment, declining buying power and the prospect of Turkey's future EU membership, which Chirac has supported - could turn the referendum into an anti-government protest vote.

Street protests have been gathering pace in recent weeks and reached a crescendo last Thursday with a crippling national strike in a scene reminiscent of demonstrations in 1995 that eventually brought down the previous centre-right government.

Former EU commission president Jacques Delors, in an interview published Friday in the regional newspaper Le Progres, warned that a "no" vote in France, one of the founding members of the EU, could provoke a major crisis in Europe.

"If the ‘no’ prevails, France will be in for a political cataclysm," he said. "In Europe, it will open a very serious crisis which will slow down European construction, to the disadvantage of France."

"We need a historic vote: the referendum is a decision that asks each French citizen to be responsible for his or her actions. With a 50-50 result, the French people will be personally responsible for their choice," Raffarin said.

"This uncertainty about the result (of the referendum) will create a debate, the "yes" campaign needs a debate in order to win," the French prime minister added, speaking to young supporters of the European People's Party.

The constitution aims to streamline decision-making and forge a more coherent joint foreign policy in the European Union, which is finding its current procedures - often requiring the unanimity of members - unwieldy following the bloc's expansion last year from 15 to 25 states.

France and another nine EU member states are to call their voters out to decide the matter. Denmark announced late last month that it would hold its plebiscite on September 27.

Britain - whose citizens are the most eurosceptic in the European Union - has yet to announce a date for its referendum, reluctantly agreed to by Prime Minister Tony Blair, though it looks likely to take place in the first half of 2006.

The remaining 15 EU members have decided to ratify the charter through their parliaments, without putting it directly before voters - a choice that has generated some resentment, particularly in Germany, the EU's biggest economy and biggest contributor to EU coffers.

Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia have already ratified the constitution via parliamentary vote.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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