French Referendum: No Vote On The Rebound

The ‘No’ campaign seems once more to have regained the lead in the run-up to France’s referendum on May 29, with French voters apparently ignoring all warnings about the damage that would be caused by rejection of Europe’s constitutional treaty.

One explanation for this may be the fact that leading politicians of the left – like Jacques Delors and Laurent Fabius – have given the impression that a ‘no’ outcome would lead to a probable ‘renegotiation’ of the treaty, with an outcome more favourable to French interests. The latest opinion polls show that an increasing proportion of respondents say France could renegotiate a better treaty after a No vote. According to the Ipsos poll cited below, nearly 62 per cent of respondents now hold this opinion.

Confounding pollsters, pundits and politicians alike, public opinion in France has swung back behind a no vote to the new European constitution, say three surveys published yesterday.

Less than two weeks before France’s May 29 referendum on the treaty, the polls by the TNS-Sofres, Ipsos and CSA agencies for Le Monde, Le Figaro and Le Parisien newspapers showed support for the no camp, trailing since the end of April, had bounced back to between 51% and 53%.

Hanging In The Balance

As opinion polls produce results wobbling uncomfortably back-and-forth between ‘yes’ and a ‘no’, France is in the grips of a chaotic day of ‘solidarity under duress’ whose consequences for 29 May seem hard to foresee.

News that parliaments in Germany, Austria and Slovakia have approved the constitution treaty is tempered by the results of the latest poll from the Netherlands, and a growing awareness of the possible uncertainty of forthcoming votes in Denmark, Poland and Ireland (at this stage the Czech Republic has still to decide on whether to have a referendum). It is taken as read by all concerned that the constitution faces a major obstacle in the UK referendum to be held in 2006.
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Eh, Non

The Financial Times quotes former EU Commission President Romano Prodi on the consequences of a French rejection of the constitutional treaty.

?There would be no more Europe. We will pass through a long period of crisis.

?The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.?

This is arrant nonsense.

Nor is it likely to help the Yes campaign. The French are a funny people (sometimes even intentionally) but they are not likely to be stampeded into voting yes by this sort of gloom and doom.

The Union will face a crisis if France does not approve the constitutional treaty by the final deadline of 1 November 2006. It’s not at all clear to me, though, that a rejection next month is a final rejection. (If anyone has learned anything about EU politics, it is surely that nothing is ever final.)

The bid to have France lead the way forward looks to be failing. But are the French willing to be the only people to reject the treaty?

Five member states have ratified the treaty already; Spain, the sixth, has said Yes in a referendum, so parliamentary ratification is likely to be a formality. Four to six more could act before the French referendum. All of the countries in question are addressing the constitution through their parliaments, and all are expected to vote Yes. So as much as half the Union may have said Yes by the time France throws a spanner in the works.

And a spanner it would be. While an EU without France is barely conceivable (though it might simplify language issues), the converse is also true. Plus the French have said No to a treaty before, and then changed their collective mind.

This still seems the likeliest course to me. France will say No next month. Over the course of the next year, almost everyone else will say Yes. France’s voters will face the prospect of Europe going on without them, and they will see the situation differently.

(Bonus Machiavellian questions: Is the FT deliberately trying to weaken Prodi by splashing such silliness on their front page? Do they really prefer Berlusconi? Or are they simply unable to resist such juicily foolish quotes from a major figure?)

He Who Pays the Piper

My Bulgarian ‘assistant’ still won’t let me forget Chirac’s last faux pas: that the biggest favour the candidate countries could do for themselves was to stay quiet. It looks like we’re going down the same road one more time. I really don’t think it is possible to effectively ‘buy’ opinions. I mean in the short term it may work as a tactic, but long term this will lead to more, not less, resentment and tension. I already feel that the Swedish euro vote was more a political statement than an economic one. The Netherlands are getting louder and louder in their denunciation of stability pact ‘flexibility’, and now the aid-recipients are effectively being told to put up and shut up. This is not a very auspicious start for a new constitution, nor does it offer a very encouraging insight into how it might work.
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