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A false dawn?

Posted by Richard Friday, December 03, 2004

Europhile newspapers today are giving great prominence to the relief felt at the French socialists having backed the EU constitution, the final figure coming in at 59 percent for supporting it in the official referendum campaign.

The Guardian quotes Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish president of the European Socialists, saying that, "This vote was no minor internal affair - it had the potential to put a serious spanner in the EU works," with its leader triumphantly proclaiming, "France: Yes it's oui".

Moreover, France's socialists, the paper says, are not alone in breathing a sigh of relief… The result makes it more likely - though not certain - that the text will be approved in a national referendum next year and stop a domino effect of no votes blocking the required unanimous ratification of the new treaty.

The paper sees the result, and the convincing margin with which the "yes" camp won, as a key victory for socialist leader, François Hollande, against challenger, former prime minister Laurent Fabius,

The Financial Times, however, is more sanguine, its leader following a well-worn path with the header "Oui to Europe". It suggests that approval is not a foregone conclusion. The opposition Socialists could dilute their support for the constitution when l’escroc Chirac steps up his campaign for it.

Predictably, The Independent is more bullish. Labelling its leader "Allez, Europe", it tells its readers that "French socialists have given their resounding backing to the new EU constitution. Laurent Fabius, the ambitious former prime minister …deserves his rebuff."

Bringing the issue into the UK domestic ambit, it then adds:

But he is not the only loser. If Tony Blair hoped France would kill off the treaty before his own promised referendum, he may have miscalculated. The French national verdict now stands a greater chance of being a oui than a non. The constitution has survived its first serious test of European public opinion. It is high time Mr Blair got out there and started campaigning.
It is worth noting, though, that the 120,000 card-carrying socialists who were eligible to vote, represent a highly partisan minority of the French electorate – less that 0.3 percent, and their vote can hardly be taken as typical of French opinion.

Not least, as indicated in our previous posting on this issue, the poll was as much a test of opinion on who was to lead the socialist party into the next presidential election, with Fabius using opportunity of the constitution to test the waters.

As such, the poll means very little, although it seems to have convinced Chirac that it is safe to bring forward the date of the referendum, from the autumn next year to perhaps April or May.

Nevertheless, as they say, a week is a long time in politics – as Mr Blunkett will no doubt aver – and where French sentiment will stand by the spring is anyone’s guess.