Thursday, June 09, 2005

Mixed messages

Despite Chirac's stern injunctions, throughout the French referendum campaign, that the EU constitution could not be renegotiated, an opinion poll today gives a clear majority wanting renegotiation.

This is a poll by the CSA Institute compiled through 6/7 June, relayed from AFX (via Forbes which shows that 61 percent of French voters said the constitution should now be renegotiated. Only 35 percent said nothing more should be done with it.

Furthermore, around round three-quarters (74 percent) believe France could achieve major changes in the text, looking to "significant and positive changes" - whatever they might be. The poll also found, incidentally, that around two-thirds of French people were opposed to Turkey joining the EU, against just 28 pct who approved.

Reflecting the lack of appetite for enlargement, EU commissioner for enterprise and industry, Günter Verheugen, has told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza that: "Following the fiasco of constitutional referendums in France and the Netherlands, there is no political climate for further enlargement. [The] window of opportunity for new entrants is closed."

Meanwhile, further east, the Slovak Spectator has reported that Slovakia and the Czech Republic continue to support ratification. This is from Slovak prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and his Czech counterpart, Jiøí Paroubek.

Paroubek says that if necessary, the EU should allow member countries more than the allotted two years to approve the EU treaty. He hopes political representatives "will show political courage and go for a repeat of the referendum in those countries it initially failed."

Although the Slovak parliament approved the EU constitutional treaty on 11 May, the Czechs have yet to decided formally whether they will opt for parliamentary ratification or go for a referendum.

The official Czech-Slovak stance seems to be backed by the Irish government. According to Irish Voice, Bertie Ahern is intent on ignoring the results of the French and Dutch referendums and is still planning on an Irish poll.

Fianna Fail minister Seamus Brennan feels the constitution is still "rescuable" and says Ireland should not make a decision on the issue until the European Council has met. Ahern is saying that, after five years work, the project could not be abandoned.

The way things are stacking up for the European Council, therefore, are quite interesting. No country has yet formally broken ranks and gestures of support are continuing. The weak link, perversely, is France. With his countrymen showing their enthusiasm for "renegotiation", Chirac is going to have a hard time convincing the "colleagues" that another referendum in France is a realistic proposition.

Of course, if the European Council opt to extend the ratification period, the decision may not be Chirac's to make. He may well be dumped in the 2007 presidency election and the job would be down to the new man. The game, therefore, is still alive although, with the poll result from Poland this morning, the Council is going to have to deal with mixed messages. Their way out of the crisis is by no means clear.

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