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 user 2005-05-30 at 10:13:00 am Views: 74
  • #9723
    French Voters Reject European Union’s First

    PARIS(May 05)-In a stunning rejection of the European
    Union’s latest ambitious move to unite its 25 nations, French voters shot down
    the bloc’s first constitution, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the charter
    and humiliating President Jacques Chirac.

    Sunday’s referendum in France,a cradle of continental
    unity for more than half a century and the country where much of the
    constitution was painstakingly written, threatened to set back plans for broader
    European integration by years.

    About 55 percent of voters opposed the treaty – the first
    rejection in Europe. France’s repudiation came ahead of Wednesday’s referendum
    in the Netherlands, where polls show even more resistance to the constitution,
    and had EU leaders scrambling to do damage control.

    ”The result raises profound questions for all of us about
    the future direction of Europe,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

    But the European Union’s industry commissioner, Guenther
    Verheugen, said the vote was not a catastrophe and that the situation should not
    be over-dramatized. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, while
    conceding the outcome was a ”serious problem,” insisted: ”We cannot say that
    the treaty is dead.”

    Chirac had waged an all-out campaign to persuade nearly 42
    million sharply divided voters to approve the charter. But the electorate was in
    a rebellious mood, with unemployment running at 10 percent and unease about the
    direction Europe is taking.

    Turnout was close to 70 percent – testifying to the
    passions that the treaty and the debate surrounding it aroused.

    Chirac argued that the constitution would streamline EU
    decision-making and make the bloc more accessible to its 450 million citizens.
    But opponents feared it would strip France of its sovereignty and generous
    social system and trigger an influx of cheap labor.

    They feared the treaty would open the EU to unfettered
    free-market capitalism, trampling on workers rights.

    Treaty opponents chanting ”We won!” gathered at Paris’
    Place de la Bastille, a symbol of rebellion where angry crowds in 1789 stormed
    the Bastille prison and sparked the French Revolution. Cars blared their horns
    and ”no” campaigners thrust their arms into the air.

    ”This is a great victory,” said Fabrice Savel, 38, from
    the working-class suburb of Aubervilliers, distributing posters that read: ”No
    to a free-market Europe.”

    Ahmed Meguili, a militant leftist, noted the significance
    of the Bastille for the ”no” camp’s celebrations.

    ”In 1789, the revolutionaries freed the prisoners and
    frightened the king,” he said. ”This is the same thing. This is yet another
    divorce between the leaders and the people.”

    All 25 EU members must ratify the text for it to take
    effect as planned by Nov. 1, 2006. Nine already have done so: Austria, Hungary,
    Italy, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

    The constitution’s main architect, former French President
    Valery Giscard d’Estaing, said countries that reject the treaty will be asked to
    vote again.

    Chirac said the process of ratifying the treaty would
    continue in other EU countries.

    ”It is your sovereign decision, and I take note,” Chirac
    said. ”Make no mistake, France’s decision inevitably creates a difficult
    context for the defense of our interests in Europe.”

    But Philippe de Villiers, a leading opponent, declared the
    treaty dead.

    ”There is no more constitution,” he said. ”It is
    necessary to reconstruct Europe on other foundations that don’t currently

    De Villiers called on Chirac to resign – something the
    French leader had said he would not do – and called for parliament to be

    Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme-right leader who campaigned
    vigorously against the constitution, also called for Chirac’s resignation.
    Chirac ”wanted to gamble … and he has lost,” Le Pen said.

    Chirac and other European leaders had said there was no
    fallback plan in the event of a French rejection. But voters did not believe
    that. Many, especially on the left, hoped their ”no” vote would force the EU
    back to the drawing board and improve the 448-clause document.

    Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of Chirac’s ruling Union for a
    Popular Movement and a leading campaigner for the ”yes” camp, called Sunday’s
    defeat ”a major political event.”

    Looking ahead to France’s next general elections in 2007,
    Sarkozy said: ”We must decide on an innovative, courageous and ambitious plan
    of action.”

    Chirac’s popularity ratings have plummeted in recent weeks,
    and in his television address, the president said he would announce ”my
    decisions concerning the government and its priorities” in coming days. There
    was widespread speculation that he would dump unpopular Prime Minister
    Jean-Pierre Raffarin