Chirac makes final, desperate appeal for EU treaty
PARIS, May 26 (AFP) – French President Jacques Chirac made a last-ditch effort to reverse the tide of opposition to the EU constitution Thursday, urging the public to vote “yes” in this weekend’s referendum in order to safeguard 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 ten-minute address carried on national radio and television from the Elysee palace.
As he spoke two new opinion polls gave leads of 55 percent for the “no” camp in Sunday’s referendum – a rise of two points from the start of the week – suggesting that victory for the rejectionists could be even easier than expected.
In a solemn address that began with the national anthem, Chirac 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 Europe’s democratic institutions.
He also warned that rejection would open up a period of “division, doubt and uncertainty” in which French interests would be subordinated to the ideas of “ultra-liberals.”
“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. Meanwhile the world would move on, faster and faster.
“France would be in a less strong position to defend its interests,” he said.
“If France is weakened, if the Franco-German couple is weakened, if Europe is divided, it will be those who have an ultra-liberal conception of Europe who take charge. They will lead is to a Europe with no political ambition … a Europe reduced to a mere free-trade zone,” Chirac said.
Urging voters not to use the referendum to express their discontent with the government and France’s social and economic difficulties, he said: “On May 29 each one of us must make a decision based on responsibility and conscience. We must not answer the wrong question.
“The decision goes far beyond the traditional political cleavage of left and right. It is about your future, your children’s future, the future of France, the future of Europe.”
The EU’s constitution, which was drawn up after four years of laborious consultations, is meant to streamline decision-making in the expanding bloc – but to go into effect it must be ratified by all 25 members and a rejection in France would stop it in its tracks.
Two months ago polls suggested an easy victory for French backers of the text. But the government was taken by surprise by a sudden surge of opposition, fed by widespread social discontent, high unemployment and anxiety over new competition from countries like Poland and Hungary.
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.
The “yes” camp comprises Chirac’s centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, the leadership of the Socialist and Green opposition parties, all the main trade unions and the churches.
A “no” vote on Sunday would badly undermine Chirac’s political authority, though there is no expectation that he will follow the footsteps of his mentor Charles de Gaulle who resigned after losing a referendum for the first time in 1969.
Commentators predicted a prompt government reshuffle and the dismissal of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, as the president seeks to put the damage behind him as quickly as possible.
“Much depends on the scale of the defeat. If it is very tight then it might be possible to argue that it was the social and economic climate that tipped the balance. But if it is a gap of several million voters, then no-one will be spared,” Pierre Giacometti, head of the Ipsos polling agency, told AFP.
Supporters of the constitution grasped at what could be seen as straws – pointing to Liverpool’s dramatic comeback in the final of football’s European Champions’ League Wednesday in Istanbul as a sign that victory is still possible.
“Yesterday evening, up to the last five or ten minutes of the match, it was AC Milan that was ahead,” said Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who led the drafting of the constitution.
“This morning in the opinion polls everyone is saying ‘Milan is going to win.’ Well, I think it is going to be Liverpool. Let’s not score an own goal. Voting ‘no’ is a goal against France,” he said.
Subject: French News