Former French PM Fabius threatenscampaign against EU constitution
PARIS, Sept 10 (AFP) - By taking a stand against the EU's proposed constitution, French presidential hopeful Laurent Fabius has exposed divisions within the opposition Socialists and raised the stakes for a national referendum due next year, commentators said Friday.
Speaking on state-owned television Thursday night, the former prime minister declared that the proposed text contains “grave shortcomings,” and said he would only lend it his support if President Jacques Chirac manages to re-orientate European policy in a more “social” direction.
By the time France holds its vote on the constitutional treaty in a year’s time, Chirac must have reformed the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, ensured tax harmonisation across the union, blocked plans to cut the EU budget and had guarantees for public services written into the text, Fabius said.
“It’s a precise condition … a re-orientation towards employment and fighting job outsourcing. If it’s yes, then that is great for workers and the treaty. But if (Chirac) cannot do it, then the answer (to the referendum) is ‘no’,” Fabius said.
The demands imposed by Fabius being clearly either unpalatable or impossible to Chirac, his position on the constitution was interpreted Friday as a highly-nuanced form of rejection, for which the blame could ultimately be cast onto the president.
At the same time commentators described the gambit as a tactical move ahead of Fabius’s expected presidential bid in 2007, allowing the 58-year-old former prime minister to reach out to the powerful left-wing of the Socialist party (PS) which believes the constitutional text is a sell-out to capitalism.
The subtlety of Fabius’ opposition drew strong criticism Friday. “It was an edifying exercise in how not to give a straight answer, delivered with Jesuitical accomplishment,” said Michel Klekowski of the Est Republicain newspaper.
His intervention “owed more to a classic politician’s manoeuvre than the lofty vision of a real statesman,” said Jacques Camus of La Republique du Centre.
Fabius, who served under president Francois Mitterrand in the mid-1980s, has been formulating his position on the EU constitution for several weeks. His decision to back the no campaign – however hedged around with conditions – set him at odds with the PS leadership, which has come out in favour.
One of his likely rivals for the nomination as Socialist candidate for the 2007 presidential election, former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was also critical of his intervention Friday, describing it as full of contradictions.
“Asking Jacques Chirac to carry out a policy of the left is totally illusory. And wanting to present yourself as a statesman and then saying your position on the constitution depends on what the president does seems totally unreasonable to me,” Strauss-Kahn said.
As a Socialist party heavyweight, Fabius’s stance on the constitution could have an important influence on the outcome of the national referendum on the issue, which Chirac has promised for the second half of 2005, commentators said.
The PS is to hold an internal vote on the constitution later this year, and with Fabius adding his weight the rejectionist camp in the party could be a majority. That could then have repercussions on the referendum, because with many French men and women likely to vote against the government for reasons not connected with the EU, the position of the PS could be decisive.
The constitution has been accepted by all 25 EU member states, but must be formally adopted by them – either by a referendum or a parliamentary vote – before it can come into force.
France’s position is crucial, because while EU officials say the process could survive if one or two smaller countries reject the text, rejection by a major power would lead into uncharted territory.
Subject: French News