Despite some predictions to the contrary, 55 percent of French socialists in yesterday’s vote have given their backing to the EU constitution, on a higher than expected turnout of 80 percent. There was even a strong "yes" vote in the regions of northern France that had voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.
"This is a victory that augurs well for more," says party leader Francois Hollande, echoed by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish president of European Socialists. "This is a great result, not just for French socialists but also for us as European socialists, and for France and Europe as a whole," he said in a statement. "This vote was no paltry internal affair - it was a vote that had the potential to put a serious spanner in the EU works."
The result is a major defeat for deputy party leader Laurent Fabius, who had led the "no" campaign. Some are taking the view that the vote was a personal rejection of the former finance minister’s attempts to exploit the constitution issue as part of his own leadership campaign. Without a hint of irony, one Socialist commented to Europe 1 radio, "When you're not honest, you pay," after casting her "yes" vote in the north.
Interpretation of the result, therefore, is not entirely straightforward. It seems that fears of an internal party crisis might have persuaded many party militants to vote "yes", despite hostility towards the constitution. As is so often the case, therefore, the referendum was fought – at least partly – on issues not stated on the ballot paper.
Nevertheless, it is a boost for "yes" campaigners, and increases the likelihood that France as a whole will support the EU constitution in the referendum next year. Blair is not going to get off the hook so easily by hiding behind a French "no" vote.