Vote on EU constitution splits French Socialists

14th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 14 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialist party (PS) was struggling to contain a bitter internal row Monday after a senior left-winger compared the leadership's support for the proposed EU constitution with the vote that set up the collaborationist Vichy regime in World War Two.

PARIS, March 14 (AFP) - France's opposition Socialist party (PS) was struggling to contain a bitter internal row Monday after a senior left-winger compared the leadership's support for the proposed EU constitution with the vote that set up the collaborationist Vichy regime in World War Two.

Henri Emmanuelli, who heads a minority party faction calling for a "no" vote in the May 29 referendum on the constitution, was widely condemned for breaking a political taboo when he made his remarks on a local radio station over the weekend.

"A majority of Socialists voted full powers to Laval in 1940. Those who resisted have gone down in posterity. Those who voted ended in disgrace," he said on France-Bleu Gascoigne.

In July 1940 - after the military collapse to the invading German army - the elected French parliament voted to disband itself and give full powers to Marshal Philippe Petain. The pro-Nazi Pierre Laval became Petain's vice-premier.

Amid the furore over his comments, Emmanuelli complained that their meaning - that it was possible for the Socialist party leadership to make a historic mistake - had been distorted by the media.

But the comparison with one of the most reviled figures in 20th century French politics left even his political allies taken aback.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, a fellow leader of the New World faction of the PS, said he "totally disapproved" of Emmanuelli's comments. "It is neither true, nor is it in our interests, nor is it the level of debate to which the left aspires," he said.

Party leader Francois Hollande - a strong advocate of a "yes" vote in the EU referendum - said Emmanuelli had made an "unacceptable blunder. He must rectify it as soon as possible."

The row exposed the chasm that continues to divide the PS three months after an internal vote on the EU constitutional treaty that was intended to establish a clear party line.

The December consultation - in which 120,000 party members took part - resulted in a 59 percent victory for the "yes" camp, which is supported by most of the top leadership including former ministers Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Martine Aubry and Jack Lang.

But the defeated opponents of the constitution, led by former prime minister Laurent Fabius, have refused to toe the party line and many are publicly campaigning for a "no" vote - leading to an increasingly vicious climate of internecine hostility.

Last week supporters of Hollande were furious after the party leader was attacked with eggs and snowballs by left-wingers at a demonstration in the central town of Gueret. They accused Fabius of failing to speak out against the attackers.

Emmanuelli earlier stirred up tensions by saying there were "now more Socialists outside the party than inside." Another leading opponent of the constitution Claude Bartolone said the internal divisions were the worst since the debate over nationalisation when the PS came to power in 1981.

Left-wing opponents of the constitutional treaty argue that it will entrench free market economic polices in the 25-member bloc and make it impossible for a radical government of the future to enact alternative measures.

They have been encouraged by the wave of social discontent that last week saw up to a million people protesting against the government of President Jacques Chirac, and by polls showing that the national majority in favour of the constitution - currently around 60 percent - is being chipped away.

The constitution is intended to streamline decision-making in the European Union and must be ratified by all 25 member states.

A rejection in so important a country as France would render it a dead letter and raise serious questions about the EU's future.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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