'Oui' camp to give their all as 'non' runs ahead

23rd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 23 (AFP) - The political heavyweights of France's "yes" campaign for the EU constitution on Monday stepped up efforts to persuade undecided voters to back the treaty, with the "no" camp still running ahead in the polls.

PARIS, May 23 (AFP) - The political heavyweights of France's "yes" campaign for the EU constitution on Monday stepped up efforts to persuade undecided voters to back the treaty, with the "no" camp still running ahead in the polls.  

Supporters of the landmark EU charter from across France's political spectrum - and from outside the country - rallied to reach some 20 percent of voters who have not yet determined how they will vote on Sunday.  

But leaders of the "no" camp, like former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius, appeared confident after the seventh opinion poll in a week indicated that they would win the referendum, saying they would not be intimidated.  

With all surveys suggesting that Sunday's vote will be won or lost on the political left, Socialist (PS) leader Francois Hollande appealed to his party faithful in Liberation newspaper, urging them to say yes to Europe's future.  

"Until now, you have always made choices that allowed Europe to move forward. If you don't turn out in force on May 29, you take the risk not of creating a crisis on the right ... but a crisis in Europe," Hollande said.  

Hollande, who is campaigning for the treaty alongside President Jacques Chirac's ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), got a helping hand from Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.  

"Today, all eyes in Europe are on France," Zapatero said in a commentary in Le Figaro newspaper.  

"France must approve the constitution because it is the founding mother of a united Europe, because it has been the driving force behind each defining moment in the process of European construction. France must remain present."  

Zapatero, whose country voted overwhelmingly to approve the EU constitution in a February referendum - albeit a consultative one - will be in northern France on Friday, the last official day of campaigning, to give the "yes" camp a final boost.  

Chirac, who has taken every available opportunity in recent weeks to defend the constitution, will make a last-ditch appeal to the French in a televised address on Thursday night, his office announced.  

Aides said the French president, whose prestige is riding on the outcome of Sunday's vote, wants to "shed light on the choice of the French people" and "highlight what is at stake".  

Former finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who now leads the UMP, and the deeply unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin were to co-host a "yes" campaign rally in the western city of Poitiers later Monday.  

Former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin, seen as an elder statesman capable of winning over swing voters, will appear on national television late Tuesday to stump for the treaty.  

The constitution, which among other aims seeks to simplify the operating rules of the expanded European Union, must be approved by all 25 EU member states. So far, seven have ratified it.  

A rejection in a country as important as France - one of the six founding members of the bloc - would plunge the European Union into political uncertainty.  

"We will enter a big crisis. There is no easy way out, and that is what Europe doesn't really need now," Luxembourg's junior foreign minister Nicolas Schmit, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said in Brussels.  

Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors - whose recent comments on a possible "plan B" helped to fuel the "no" camp - warned the French not to cast a protest vote against Chirac's increasingly unpopular government.  

"What could help shift the momentum towards a yes, would be to explain that this is 2005, not 2007," said Delors, referring to the next presidential election. "We must not be mistaken about this vote."  

Opponents of the treaty, ranging from Fabius and other PS and UMP dissidents to parties on the far-left and far-right like Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front, remained confident Monday, with two fresh polls showing them in front.  

Fabius told Le Parisien newspaper that should the "no" camp prevail on May 29, "Europe will not collapse. France will still be at the heart of Europe. We mustn't paint such a catastrophic picture."


Subject: French News

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