No 'plan B' if French dump EU treaty: Raffarin

18th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 17 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Tuesday urged voters to approve the EU constitution, saying it would help protect France's economy against competition from the United States and China.

PARIS, May 17 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Tuesday urged voters to approve the EU constitution, saying it would help protect France's economy against competition from the United States and China.  

The prime minister, back on the campaign trail 10 days after emergency gall bladder surgery, said Europe was watching to see how France would vote in a May 29 referendum and warned there was no "plan B" should voters reject the treaty.  

"The president of the republic (Jacques Chirac) is right when he says that Europe protects us. In the past, our borders protected us. Now, it's the continent that protects us," Raffarin said in a live television interview.  

"The major economic powers are organized by continent," he said, citing the United States, China and the Indian subcontinent as examples.  

"Do you think that France can stand up to China, alone?" Raffarin said in the interview with France 2, broadcast from the southwest city of Bordeaux.  

Closer EU integration through approval of the constitution is the only way to avoid a "jobs war" with China and regulate the EU's trade relations with both Beijing and Washington, the prime minister argued.  

"The major continental powers are waiting to see if Europe can organize itself," he said.  

A recent flurry of opinion polls have indicated that with less than two weeks to go before the French vote, the 'no' camp has regained the lead, largely due to the unpopularity of Raffarin's centre-right government.  

But the prime minister warned against a protest vote, saying: "What's at stake on May 29 is not a question of domestic politics. It's not the government that will be sanctioned by a 'no' vote."  

"The result will be close. That means that each French man and woman has a historic ballot in his or her hands. The entire world will be watching France," Raffarin said.  

"Everyone wants to know if Europe will move forward, if France will help it go through the green light, or if France will stop Europe at the red light."  

Already feeding on public dissatisfaction with France's stagnant economy and government reforms, the "no" camp also gained a boost in recent days with renewed talk of a possible "plan B" should the French reject the treaty.  

But Raffarin countered: "It's a lie to say there is a plan B. We have a treaty that took a lot of time to be drafted, negotiated, signed and that must now be ratified. There is no alternative treaty."  

The constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making in the expanded European Union, must be ratified by all 25 member states, and a rejection by so important a country as France would leave the treaty dead in its tracks.  

When asked about the government's decision to scrap a public holiday on Monday, a widely unpopular move defied by half the country, Raffarin replied: "This 'day of solidarity' allowed us to free up two billion euros."  

Although public outrage at Monday's "day of solidarity" to raise funds for the elderly did not translate into widespread protests or public transport chaos in Paris, it did nothing to improve the public's impression of Raffarin.  

As for his own political future, he repeatedly skirted questions about a possible government reshuffle that would send him packing, but did say: "I'm working and I'm not hooked on power. My personal future does not concern me."  

Whether or not France votes "yes' on May 29, observers say Raffarin's days as prime minister could be numbered, with Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin often cited as possible successors.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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