Sarkozy backs EU treaty with reform debate

24th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

POITIERS, France, May 24 (AFP) - Star of the French right and presidential hopeful, Nicolas Sarkozy is putting his political weight behind the EU constitution for Sunday's referendum - but with a message that sets him sharply at odds with President Jacques Chirac and other "yes" campaigners.

POITIERS, France, May 24 (AFP) - Star of the French right and presidential hopeful, Nicolas Sarkozy is putting his political weight behind the EU constitution for Sunday's referendum - but with a message that sets him sharply at odds with President Jacques Chirac and other "yes" campaigners.  

Far from arguing that the constitution will safeguard France's generous welfare state from the dangers of globalisation, Sarkozy says it is the French social model itself which is breaking down and needs the impetus of European integration in order to reform.  

The avowedly liberal rhetoric of the 50-year-old former finance minister, who now heads Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, has angered some other leaders of the flagging "yes" campaign who feel he will scare wavering voters into rejecting the constitution.  

But with more opinion polls pointing to a shock victory for the "no" camp on Sunday, Sarkozy's supporters hope that by taking a radically different line he can be spared the political damage destined for other supporters of the constitution on both left and right.  

Pugnacious and provocative, Sarkozy was in full form at a rally of some 2,000 party faithful Monday night in which he appeared alongside Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.  

Raffarin, who is widely expected to leave office next week whatever the outcome of the referendum, was given an affectionate welcome in his political heartland of Poitou, in central France, but it was the UMP president who had the audience on its feet.  

Ridiculing the ad hoc coalition that backs a "no" vote on Sunday, Sarkozy set off hoots of derision as he listed the names of the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen, Communist leader Marie-George Buffet, Trotskyite Olivier Besancenot and the Socialist ex-prime minister Laurent Fabius.  

"They can't even shake each others' hands ... If you vote 'yes' at least you know what you are getting. But the 'no' supporters are incapable of agreeing on the tiniest amendment to the constitution. They say it is worth nothing, but they propose nothing instead. That way leads nowhere," Sarkozy said.  

He drew applause with a savage attack on the Communists, who were "complicit in the wall of shame, in a dictatorship over 80 million Europeans, and yet who now dare to explain to us what will be best for a Europe of peace. That I cannot accept."  

But it was on France's social model - the central issue of the referendum campaign - that Sarkozy was at his most cutting, sharply disagreeing with the consensus view that it is an example to the world to be preserved intact.  

"What is the best social model in the world? It is the one that ensures everyone has a job. And yet in France for 25 years we have been unable to escape from a situation in which we have far more jobless than other countries," he said.  

France currently has 10.2 percent unemployment, compared to half that in Britain.  

Attacking the prevailing spirits of "welfarism, egalitarianism and levelling-down," he called for a "yes" vote Sunday "for one simple reason - because we want Europe to move, to change, to innovate. We want Europe to be a synonym for reform - not inertia."  

"The French can all see that in Europe there are countries that are advancing like Britain and Spain, and there are countries in difficulty like Germany. We have to analyse the situation and draw the consequences," he said.    

Sarkozy's right-wing argumentation sets him far apart from Chirac - his possible rival in the 2007 presidential election - who two weeks ago said the European constitution was inspired by the French revolution. It also provides a strong case for "no" campaigners, who see his liberal ideas as a red rag.  

But inside the UMP - which he took over six months ago and is fast refashioning into a loyalist Sarkozy machine - there is little doubt that he has chosen the right path.  

"If the 'no' wins on Sunday, then a lot of politicians will be seriously weakened - including Chirac. But Sarkozy will be relatively unscathed. He will see it as another reason to continue the fight, and he has a party united behind him," said Thomas Porchet, head of the Poitou UMP's youth section.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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