French Socialists split on EU constitution vote

30th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 1 (AFP) - In a vote which could have profound knock-on effects in both France and Europe, members of France's opposition Socialist party (PS) were being balloted Wednesday on whether to back the EU's proposed new constitution.

PARIS, Dec 1 (AFP) - In a vote which could have profound knock-on effects in both France and Europe, members of France's opposition Socialist party (PS) were being balloted Wednesday on whether to back the EU's proposed new constitution.

After weeks of often bitter debate, some 120,000 card-carrying members were being asked if they support or oppose the text of the constitutional treaty which was signed by European Union leaders in Rome in October but must now be ratified in each of the 25 member states.

The result of the ballot, which will be known Thursday morning, was being anxiously awaited because it could influence a nationwide referendum on the constitution which President Jacques Chirac has promised to hold next year.

A "no" vote inside the French Socialist party would be a major boost to opponents of the constitution on both the political left and right. If it was replicated in the national referendum it would in effect kill off the treaty, which has to be approved by all member states.

Socialist and Social Democratic leaders in other European countries were looking on with some consternation, for fear that the French opposition party would break with the socialist movement's long-standing support for the process of European integration.

"If the PS votes no, I shall be very worried," said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Socialist bloc at the European parliament.

Wednesday's vote will also have important implications for the future of the PS, whose leaders are beginning to jockey for pole-position ahead of France's 2007 presidential race.

Party leader Francois Hollande and heavyweights including former prime minister Lionel Jospin and former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn have come out in support of the text, warning of the risks of isolation from the European socialist movement if the "no" were to win.

However they are opposed by the party's number two, former prime minister Laurent Fabius, who has allied himself with a powerful left-wing bloc to denounce the constitution as a capitalists' charter. They say that the text spells an end to efforts to improve social justice in Europe.

"My mind is made up. This is not the constitution Europeans need in order to progress .... Voting no means refusing to resign oneself to a diluted, unjust Europe. Voting no is an expression of lucidity and courage," Fabius wrote in a book setting out his arguments.

Opponents believe that a vote in favour would be a political gift to Chirac, who is actively campaigning for the constitution. Many on the left still smart from the memory of the 2002 presidential race when they were forced into voting for Chirac after Jospin was knocked out by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

However in an interview with Les Echos newspaper Wednesday, Hollande accused Fabius of political hypocrisy.

"The surprise in the PS does not come from those who have always kept their distance from the European project. They at least are consistent. It comes from those who a few months ago ... were calling for controlling deficits and arguing that tax-cuts were the alpha and omega of the modern left," he said.

Commentators said the vote could help define the future direction of the socialist movement in France - whether it seeks to influence or fight against the globalised free-market economy.

Around 40 percent of the PS membership are said to belong to two separate left-wing caucuses. Combined with Fabius's personal following that could be enough to swing the vote against the constitution, analysts said.

However the "yes" camp was confident it had won over many undecided voters by stressing the dangers to party stability. The current leadership under Hollande could find its position untenable if the "no" camp wins, sparking a period of bitter instability.

An opinion poll this week showed that a clear majority of PS voters - 63 percent - is in favour of the EU constitution. However that did not necessarily reflect the view of party activists.

In the country as a whole exactly the same proportion approves the text, according to the CSA survey.

The constitution is supposed to give the EU the mechanisms to operate effectively now that it has expanded into central and eastern Europe.


Subject: French News

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