In an almost mirror image of the British Conservative Party, French socialists are deeply split about over the EU constitution (although they do tend to be split over a great many things).
The divisions became apparent in July, immediately after Chirac announced the referendum for the latter part of next year, but now the split have come out into the open with the launch of a socialist yes campaign.
The “yes” side, led by Mitterand’s former advisor and one-time Europe minister, Elisabeth Guigou, together with Bernard Kouchner, founder, organizer and president of Médecins sans Frontières, has formed the comité de la gauche pour le oui.
Quoted in Le Monde, the group state that they "…strongly wish to convince the French left-wing, today divided over the issue”, and that they “have to support this project, in agreement with socialists and socio-democrat parties in Europe."
Nevertheless, the group is not displaying unalloyed enthusiasm for the constitution, although members are willing to bury their reservations over what they call “a compromise text” on the basis that its approval seems “essential to give Europe every chance and strengthen European democracy".
Their stand is opposed by a group of six, including MPs and ex-minister Paul Quilès. Speaking for his group, he asked, "Should we vote yes at all costs for the sole reason that it is essential to move forward?" His members feel there is plenty of time to improve the constitution before it enters into force at the end of 2009.
Ordinary party members will get their say later this year when the party holds an internal referendum, which will determine the way it will call voters to vote. The vote could be a close-run thing, as the most leftist socialists are strongly opposed to the constitution, believing it will "set a liberal Europe in stone".
By this, of course, they mean the EU's drive to detach industries and utility companies from state ownership. This is not generally what others might define as liberalisation.