Monday, April 18, 2005

Chirac Panders Again ... Desperately

Desperate to stem the tide of public opinion mounting against the proposed European Union consitution, which will be put before French voters in May, Jacques Chirac is, predicatably, playing the anti-American card.
France's voice in Europe would be "silenced" and "Anglo-Saxon" enemies of the EU - in both Britain and America - would be delighted if the French reject a constitution "largely inspired by France and French values," he said.
Chirac's desperation appears to be growing in the face of new polls that show a solidifying majority behind the "No" vote. Even open bribes to France's powerful civil service unions haven't worked (see previous post).

An opinion poll in the newspaper Le Figaro suggests 54% of the French would vote No, while a separate poll for Paris Match magazine on Tuesday gave the No side 53% of the vote.

A similar poll a few months ago had estimated the No vote at only 40%, and until now, France's ruling elite has taken French support for Europe for granted.

For the past months, the Yes campaign has been all but invisible, while a disparate group of Eurosceptics, the far left and some Socialists has been campaigning vigorously across the country for a resounding No.

French voters may be motivated to vote against the EU constitution less as a rejection of closer European Union and more as a protest against the increasingly unpopular Chirac government.

Those who would reject the EU constitution have found a receptive audience in France, where voters are increasingly fed up with Jacques Chirac and in no mood to listen to the government.

Instead, a significant majority of the French seem to be planning to use the 29 May referendum to send a clear message of discontent to their president and his ruling centre-right party.

Their dissatisfaction stems as much from domestic issues such as high and rising unemployment, as over growing French unease about the direction Europe is taking.

EU enlargement to 25 countries - including many in eastern Europe - has made some in France feel Paris has less influence in Brussels, and is no longer leading Europe at all, despite France being a founding member.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has been reduced to pleading with the voters, saying that a Yes vote for the constitution will not be interpreted as approval for the government.

The French left has successfully argued that the proposed EU constitution will impose liberal free market reforms across Europe, ultimately dismantling in the elaborate and expensive French welfare state. Speaking to an TV audience recently, Mr. Chirac found his pleas for a "yes" vote greeted with profound skepticism.

M. Chirac's audience expressed doubts and confusion about the text. Even those who were broadly pro-treaty, said that - on reading it - they could not grasp its central point or understand much of the detail.

One young woman asked M. Chirac to give "two or three concrete" examples of how the constitution would benefit France. M. Chirac struggled to give a simple answer. He mentioned a boom in French trade with eastern Europe; the fact that the treaty would enshrine women's rights; and would increase co-operation against international crime.

But he kept coming back to his central message: France had nothing to fear; this was a French text, hated by "les Anglo Saxons".

M. Chirac was asked if he would follow the example General de Gaulle, who resigned as president in 1969 after losing a referendum on regional government. President Chirac said that he could reply to that question in one word: Non.


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