Wave of polls show France to reject EU treaty

17th May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 17 (AFP) - With less than two weeks to go before the French vote on the EU constitution, a flurry of opinion polls have indicated that the "no" camp, fuelled by the government's unpopularity, has regained the lead.

PARIS, May 17 (AFP) - With less than two weeks to go before the French vote on the EU constitution, a flurry of opinion polls have indicated that the "no" camp, fuelled by the government's unpopularity, has regained the lead.  

Since Saturday, four surveys suggested that a majority of French voters - between 51 and 54 percent - would reject the landmark EU charter in a May 29 referendum, shifting the momentum back to the "no" camp.  

The polls were conducted in the lead-up to or during Pentecost weekend - a public relations fiasco for the government of President Jacques Chirac, which piqued public anger by scrapping a traditional bank holiday on Monday.  

Chirac's ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is campaigning alongside the opposition Socialists and Greens for the treaty, which aims to simplify decision-making in the expanded European Union.  

They are locking horns with a disparate "no" camp made up of the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Communist and Trotskyist parties, nationalist Euroskeptics, and a smattering of UMP and Socialist dissidents.  

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose popularity rating has dropped to all-time lows in recent weeks, will make his return to the EU campaign trail late Tuesday with a live appearance on state-owned France 2 television.  

But as the public face of the so-called Pentecost "day of solidarity" plan to raise money for the elderly, defied by millions of French people, Raffarin's presence may not be the shot in the arm the struggling "yes" campaign needs.  

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope tried to separate the Pentecost Monday debacle from the debate on the EU constitutional treaty, urging voters to "dissociate domestic issues from this historic date for Europe".  

Although the row over the cancelled bank holiday did not paralyze the entire country, as some had predicted, the sporadic closure of schools and public transport woes in several major cities reflected widespread public discontent.  

The controversy "sparked the emergence of fresh tensions among workers," Pierre Giacometti, director of the Ipsos polling institute, told Le Figaro newspaper.  

"Over the next two weeks, current affairs are not going to help the 'yes' campaign," he added.  

The constitution 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, triggering a period of confusion and paralysis inside the EU.  

Rejection of the charter would also have a profound political impact within France, with Chirac's credibility hinging on a "yes" vote and rumours swirling of a possible government reshuffle, no matter what the result.  

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.  

While renegotiation of the text has been dismissed by Chirac and other top-level "yes" campaigners as impossible, former European Commission president Jacques Delors - who supports the treaty - said such a scenario could exist.  

"I refuse to put things in black and white. The duty of the truth means I have to say there could be (a plan B), but we have to explain the extreme difficulty of the problem," Delors told Le Monde newspaper.  

Result? The latest Ipsos poll for Le Figaro, published Tuesday, indicated that 62 percent of those surveyed believe the EU constitution can be renegotiated if the "no" camp prevails.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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