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Pressure for French Non grows


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Pressure for French Non grows

In France, the Yes and No camps are joining battle over the EU constitution as the nation heads for a referendum on 29 May. The BBC's Allan Little in Paris examines the campaign.

Speak to France's close-knit political elite - of both centre-left and centre-right - and most of them will tell you the same thing: France invented the European Union; it is the most European of proud nation states; of course the French people will endorse the new European Constitution when they vote on 29 May.

But most will also admit to something else: a growing disquiet that the No campaign is growing in momentum and that a formidable coalition is emerging that could yet wreck the constitution drawn up by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Some opinion polls show as many as two-thirds of the French people are prepared to support the constitution. But the same opinion polls show that most do not even know what is in it.

The No campaigners believe all they have to do between now and the end of May is tell the voters what the new treaty means - and that commanding lead will disappear.

Brussels influence

Jacques Myard is a centre-right member of the National Assembly and is normally a close ally of President Jacques Chirac.

"We have to organise our continent, of course," he told me. "It is a great challenge. But this treaty is not the way to do it. France will become an administrative province of a federal Europe, and we must reject this.

"It is the dictatorship of the technocrats in Brussels. Everything we currently decide in the French parliament will now be dictated to us from outside France. The individual nation states will have no power to block anything.

"Even the three biggest states - France, Britain and Germany - if they act together will not be able to block anything. Is this acceptable? No.

"We are not against Europe. But we are against this new treaty".

But the Yes campaign has the support of most of the country's big political hitters. They insist that it does nothing to water down national sovereignty.

"There is no way that the treaty allows Brussels to dictate to the nation states," said Jack Lang of the opposition Socialist Party.

Yes campaigners point to the need to make a Europe of 25 member states more coherent, to streamline decision-making.

France's Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, has urged voters to base their vote on European issues only. "This is not about President Chirac, or about the prime minister, or about the government", he said. "It's about the future of Europe".

Short campaign

His comments reflect another anxiety among Yes campaigners - that many French voters will not answer the question on the paper but instead answer a so-called "invisible question", such as "Do you want to punish the sitting government?" or "Do you want Turkey to become a member of the European Union?"

The No campaigners, for example, have been arguing that the new constitution paves the way for Turkish accession to full membership - something most French people bitterly oppose. The government has denied this.

But the question is so potent that President Chirac has promised a change to France's own constitution, which would make it impossible for Turkey to join the EU without a referendum in France to approve it.

France also remembers the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. Opinion polls then showed a clear lead for the Yes campaign. But when the day came, the treaty squeezed home by the slimmest of margins - just 51%.

President Chirac has gone for a relatively short campaign - less than three months. Many observers say this reflects the Yes camp's concern that the longer the campaign lasts, the greater the chances that France will - against the odds - finally vote No on a European question.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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