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France: President Chirac Tries To Save EU Constitution

President Jacques Chirac began his campaign to save the European Union constitution yesterday, with opinion polls showing the “no” campaign is clearly ahead just six weeks before a referendum on the history-making document on 29 May. Fielding questions in a televised "town hall"-style meeting, Chirac warned voters that a rejection of the text could mean France would "cease to exist politically" in the EU. He also said the charter would strengthen France and Europe by giving the EU rules that would allow it to compete with other global powers like the United States.

Prague, 15 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Jacques Chirac last night threw his weight behind the French “yes” vote for the EU constitution.

The French leader answered questions from young French citizens in a public meeting broadcast on state television.

At the start of the more than two-hour meeting, Chirac said “humanist Europe” must be organized and strong in order to impose its values. “If there are no rules, there is no organization, no power [and] we do not count," he said. "These rules are the constitution."

Chirac argued the constitution's case with 83 handpicked young people in his first foray into a campaign that has seen the “no” vote establish a solid lead. The latest opinion poll showed 55 percent of French voters want to reject the EU treaty.

The constitution, adopted by EU leaders last year following a long and contentious debate, aims to simplify procedures and decision making.
"The Anglo-Saxons and the Americans' interest is, of course, to stop the European development, which risks tomorrow to lead to a much [stronger] Europe." - Chirac

Chirac said it would settle common rules that would put a stop to current trends of "ultraliberalism," saying, "If we vote 'no', we keep the current system, a system with its weakness and its difficulties, and the liberal trend will be amplified."

A failure by France to approve the constitution would send the document back for further negotiations -- a major setback at a time when the text is so close to ratification. Chirac said renegotiating a treaty that was agreed by 25 member states after years of discussion was not realistic.

He emphasized that a rejection in France would effectively kill the treaty and would considerably weaken France’s political influence in the EU. "If by chance France did not vote in favor [of the constitution], France would at least for a certain time cease to exist politically within Europe," Chirac said.

By contrast, he said, approving the constitution would allow Europe to counterbalance other big powers such as the United States and China. "The Anglo-Saxons and the Americans' interest is, of course, to stop the European development, which risks tomorrow to lead to a much [stronger] Europe," he said.

The 72-year-old leader, plagued by dwindling popularity, has staked his personal prestige on the vote. But he said he will not resign if French voters reject the text.

The constitution must be approved by all 25 member states before November 2006 in order to come into effect. Each member state can decide whether to hold a referendum or a parliamentary vote.

Parliaments of four EU members -- Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, and Italy – have already ratified the constitution. Greece's parliamentarians are expected to approve the text on 19 April, after postponing the vote scheduled for 15 April.

Beside France, nine European countries have so far decided to hold referendums, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands. Some of the referendums are only consultative. Spain has already voted in favor in the constitution in one such nonbinding referendum.