No this isn’t a linguistic point about the plural form in English. According to Wikipedia at any rate both forms (referendums and referenda) are acceptable (but I did feel the need to check). The issue here is rather whether the referendum is a singularly British obsesssion, something which in the French context is lacking in real significance. This, at least, would seem to be the conclusion you could reach if you went by Alain Jupp?’s latest pronouncements on the matter:
European countries should think carefully before copying Mr Blair’s “rather personal, and perhaps I should add, ultimately British, initiative”.
“When it comes to choosing [between ratification by vote in parliament and a referendum], we would like to take a concerted approach with our partners and in particular with Germany,” Mr Jupp? said at a press conference.
And this despite, of course, the fact that Jacques Chirac delared in Thessaloniki last year that he was “logically in favour of a referendum” since “It would be the only legitimate way”.
In my schooldays we were taught that referenda were a very un-British thing. That their existence in the constitution of the Fifth Republic was one of the weaknesses of the French way of doing politics. That they could lead to demagogic manipulation depending on how the question was framed. My oh my, how things have changed!
The British sovereignists are the most fervent advocates of this most ‘un-British’ of institutions, while the home of referenda finds the present suggestion an ‘ultimately British’ initiative.
I suppose the definitive, long-standing objection to the referenda system has to be the leeway it provides for all that jiggery-pockery we are currently seeing.
As the FT observes:
“Mr Chirac’s decision will hinge on his estimation of whether the Socialist opposition would seek to trip the government up in a referendum either by calling for a No vote or by encouraging voters to see it as a protest vote against an unpopular administration.”
Principles, above all principles.