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Chirac in a panic

Posted by Richard Saturday, February 19, 2005

No, the police have not raided his home to gather more evidence of his nefarious crimes – more's the pity.

What is troubling l’escroc this time, according to The Independent, is that opinion polls in France are showing a draining of support for the EU constitution

Chirac is thus said to be considering bringing forward the referendum from early or mid-June to 22 May, on the basis that, the longer he leaves it, the worse the result will be.

Needless to say, the Elysée Palace is denying anything so vulgar as a panicking president, saying that a referendum "could take place in May, just as well as June". Pro-government members of parliament are saying that June is a "bad month" for elections in France because it was littered with public holidays.

The erosion of support for the constitution does not seem to be the result of the population's increased familiarity with the document or the issues. Rather, the question has become infected by other issues, ranging from Turkish membership of the EU to the unpopularity of prime minister Raffarin's centre-right government.

However, there is a distortion in the campaign in that the "no" campaign has been in full swing for several weeks; the "yes" campaign has not begun. How this might be affecting polls had not been recorded.

Meanwhile, the Senate, the upper house, has given its first reading to a change in the French constitution, allowing the referendum to go ahead. It has been passed by the National Assembly, and Chirac is expected to announce this coming week the date of a meeting of both houses to amend the constitution. This would lift one of the remaining obstacles to a referendum, leaving only the logistics of the poll to be settled.

Given the volatility of the French electorate, however, nothing can be read into the polls at this time, although there are a steady stream of reports suggesting that it is not only Raffarin but Chirac who is becoming seriously unpopular.

This, combined with a reluctance of the Socialists to do Chirac's dirty work for him again, means that there is beginning to be a real possibility that the French people will ditch the constitution, in which case it would be dead in the water. No wonder Chirac is panicking.