'Non' ahead as France goes to urns

27th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 27 (AFP) - With opinion polls suggesting an easy win for the "no" camp in France's referendum on the EU constitution, treaty supporters on Friday desperately targeted undecided voters on the last official day of campaigning.

PARIS, May 27 (AFP) - With opinion polls suggesting an easy win for the "no" camp in France's referendum on the EU constitution, treaty supporters on Friday desperately targeted undecided voters on the last official day of campaigning.  

Following President Jacques Chirac's last-ditch effort to shift the momentum ahead of Sunday's vote, his ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the opposition Socialists (PS) and other treaty backers launched a campaign blitz.  

On the day that Germany ratified the EU charter, former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing told Germany's upper house: "I hope with all my heart that the French are going to ratify this constitution through a referendum.  

"Ratification by Germany and France would mark an historic step forward for the future of the constitution and for Europe."  

In a letter of congratulations to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Chirac wrote: "On the eve of the French people's vote, Germany's decision takes on a particular and symbolic importance that I would like to salute."  

Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero attended "yes" rallies in France later Friday to try to win over crucial left-wing swing voters.  

"Europe cannot go forward without France," said Zapatero in a meeting in the northern city of Lille.   

Schroeder said France and Germany "had to bear their responsibilities with respect to future generations," urging the French to "vote yes with all their hearts and all their head."  

But polls suggested their efforts might come too late.  

Two new opinion polls released Friday said treaty rejectionists would come out ahead in Sunday's referendum, with one poll registering a "no" vote as high as 56 percent, up two percentage points since May 21.  

A second survey showed the "no" camp still in the lead with 52 percent, but dropping three percentage points since the CSA survey group's previous poll.  

CSA, which interviewed 1,019 eligible voters, said the "yes" camp seemed to be gaining further ground Friday morning, reaching 49 percent.  

A final poll by TNS Sofres also put the race nearly even at 51 percent opposed to 49 percent supporting the constitution.  

In a make-or-break effort to salvage the "yes" campaign, and with his political legacy on the line, Chirac urged France's 42 million voters to say "yes" this weekend in order to preserve the country's influence in Europe.  

"On Sunday, each one of you will have in his hands part of the destiny of France," he said in a 10-minute address carried live late Thursday from the Elysee palace.  

The 72-year-old leader sought to persuade undecided voters - estimated at about one in five - that the constitution will enhance French force in the EU, protect the country's social model and improve EU institutions.  

"France would be in a less strong position to defend its interests" should the "no" camp prevail, Chirac said.  

"It is an illusion to think that Europe will start out again happily with another plan. There is no other plan. Europe would be broken down - searching for an impossible consensus."  

Giscard d'Estaing, chairman of the convention that drew up the constitution, said that if the treaty was rejected, the only solution would be to hold another vote on the same text.  

"We will not start working again, it is too heavy and there will not be the political will to do so," the former president said.  

Seeking to pre-empt voter temptation to turn the referendum into a protest vote against his unpopular centre-right government, Chirac said he would give his administration a "new impetus" after May 29, hinting at a reshuffle.  

Commentators have repeatedly suggested that Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose popularity rating stands at barely more than 20 percent, will be dismissed, no matter what the outcome of the referendum.  

PS leader Francois Hollande on Friday reminded voters that a "no" vote would not see Chirac removed from power, saying: "People think they're going to get rid of the right-wing majority, but in fact they're going to kill off Europe."  

The French media gave Chirac's speech mixed reviews, with the left-leaning Liberation qualifying the live address as a shameless attempt by the president to "protect himself against the disaster which he himself has sown".  

"Panic at the Elysee," read the front-page headline of the popular Le Parisien daily, next to a picture of a rather worried-looking Chirac.  

Chirac's UMP and the PS are campaigning with the Greens for the constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making into the European Union following last year's expansion to the east.  

Rejectionists include the far-right leader Jean-Marie le Pen, the Communist and Trotskyite party chiefs, Eurosceptic nationalist Philippe de Villiers and the former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius.  

A "no" vote in Sunday's referendum would badly undermine Chirac's political authority, but he has said he will not resign, no matter what the result. Rejection of the treaty also could plunge the EU into a period of uncertainty.


Subject: French News

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