European press writes off ‘yes’ camp
THE HAGUE, May 27 (AFP) - European newspapers gave scathing coverage Friday of French President Jacques Chirac's final bid to sway voters in support of the EU constitution, with most forecasting a certain "no" vote.
In the Netherlands, where voters are expected to reject the European Union treaty in a non-binding referendum on Wednesday, the centre-left De Volkskrant criticised Chirac’s televised address to the nation as “alarmist” and overly dramatic.
The business daily Het Financieel Dagblad said Paris had once again been deaf to public concerns, drawing a parallel with the 2002 presidential elections in which a protest vote propelled French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to the second round. “Better to listen to the people,” said the paper, which suggested that “three years after the shame of (the) April 21 (elections), nothing has changed.”
In Germany, France’s traditional partner within the EU which became the ninth country to ratify the treaty on Friday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung argued that Chirac’s government had alienated voters by refusing a true debate with the “no” camp.
“The president should have stayed away from the campaign,” the paper wrote in an editorial following Chirac’s appearance late Thursday, his third and last in support of the treaty.
“With each public statement, he strengthened opposition against him, driving ever greater numbers into the ‘no’ camp.
“Voters are not prepared to be asked for their opinion, and at the same time be called ignorant because they refuse to deliver the answer expected of them,” argued the centre-left paper.
The influential London-based weekly The Economist, a long-standing critic of the constitution, urged citizens of France and the Netherlands to reject it.
But in contrast to French concerns the text is economically “ultra liberal”, the magazine said it did not go far enough to instate free market economics.
It criticised the constitution as “highly ambiguous, not to say bewildering; it will transfer some more power away from national governments and to the EU, but with effects of which no one can be at all sure.”
The Financial Times business daily warned that the market, which has been bracing for a rejection of the treaty, “could become even more upset if the ‘no’ vote is unexpectedly large and triggers political fall-out.”
Several British papers turned to analysing the reasons why the “yes” camp has failed to win support from a broad cross-spectrum of French society.
The FT pointed out that the “no” camp, though it had had less airtime on national media to explain its campaign, “has been able to sway the public debate by grassroots mobilisation and… use of the Internet.”
Meanwhile, The Independent, in a piece analysing the appeal of the “no” vote among young people, wrote of a “humanist, softer, vaguely anarchist, pro-Third World left, influenced heavily by the anti-globalisation movement” – that had won over millions of young voters.
Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza was pessimistic ahead of Sunday’s vote, dismissing Chirac’s last-ditch appeal as “unconvincing”, and warning of a “certain defeat that will plunge Europe into crisis and will weaken France within the EU.”
Some French “no” campaigners have singled out Poland, the largest of the new EU member states, in arguing that the low-paid workers of eastern and central Europe were a threat to French jobs.
“Chirac tries to halt constitution disaster,” headlined Spain’s centre-left El Pais, saying the French president had “played his last card”.
But the conservative daily ABC commented that “Paris and the political parties are behaving in all respects as if they expected the treaty to be turned down.”
Russian newspapers warned that a French “no” – seen as inevitable – could cost Moscow a powerful ally within the EU.
“A French ‘no’ vote could have a knock-on effect in Russia,” warned the Izvestia daily, noting that Berlin and Paris were the strongest advocates of Russian interests in the EU.
“The Elysee palace is hoping for a miracle,” wrote the Nezavissimaya Gazeta, adding: “Chirac himself does not believe the referendum can succeed.”
Chirac’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement and the Socialist party have campaigned with the Greens for the constitution, which aims to simplify decision-making in the enlarged EU.
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.
Subject: French News