Euro-constitution: French "no" gathering pace

Submitted by Anon on 3 May, 2005 - 11:32

A recent opinion poll shows around 55% of people who have made up their minds plan to vote "no" in the French referendum on the European constitution on 29 May. 28% of voters are undecided.

All 25 EU countries have to ratify the proposed constitution for it to come into force. Ratification can be by a vote in the country's parliament or by popular referendum. Spain, Slovenia, Lithuania, Hungary, Italy and Greece have approved the constitution. Only Spain held a referendum.

Tony Blair has promised to put the constitution to a referendum - probably early in 2006 - even if the French vote "no" on 29 May. But if France votes "no" there is a good chance that the constitution will have to be renegotiated and a UK referendum will become, for the time being, a non-issue.

When Chirac first announced a referendum he was confident that he would win it, that the victory would boost his prestige at home and enhance the position of France within the EU. But the increasingly large opposition to the policies of Chirac and of the right-wing UMP administration led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin wants to use the referendum to punish the government.

Although the Socialist Party is officially backing the constitution, a large number of its activists are in the "no" camp. The far-left is campaigning against the constitution, which it regards as the epitome of neo-liberal politics and a glaring demonstration of the absence of democracy in EU institutions. The only exception, arguing as we would that "no" will not help democracy any more than "yes" will, is the minority (Convergences Révolutionnaires) in Lutte Ouvrière.

The far-left is not against Europe as such, it says, but against this bosses' Europe.

Chirac made his case on television on 14 April:

"The world is evolving increasingly towards great powers, existing powers like the USA, but also emerging and substantial powers, China, India, tomorrow Brazil and South America, Russia¦ These powers, we will not fight against them individually¦ Europe must be strong and organised to resist this evolution. There are two solutions. The careless solution, that is to say a solution leading to a Europe driven by the ultra-liberal, Anglo-Saxon, Atlantist current. The second way is a humanistic Europe, but which, to impose its humanism, must be organised, strong."

Chirac was arguing that although the EU constitution will enshrine neo-liberal market values, it does at least promise a political Europe that will mitigate the effects of the free-market and guarantee basic services and rights.

It's hardly likely that Chirac, presiding over a government that would love to "do a Thatcher", is sincere, but the propaganda of the "no" camp is having an echo in French society and Chirac must respond to it.

Chirac also reiterated his view that Turkey's possible entry into the EU was undesirable - but that 29 May was not the day to vote on that: he had previously promised the French a separate chance to veto that before it happened.

Would he resign if he lost his referendum? He would not, he said.

The programme was made with an audience of 80 carefully screened young people “ two members of the "no" camp, far-left Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) were weeded out at the last moment. The mock display of concern for French youth was especially revolting given that the French police have been knocking seven bells out of school students who have been demonstrating in recent weeks against the "Fillon" law which proposes big cuts and upheaval to the education system. Demonstrations on 10 March saw one million on the streets, and school occupations have been organised.

On the night of Chirac's TV appearance, the "no" campaign organised a big rally in Paris. Marie-George Buffet, General Secretary of the Communist Party (PCF), argued for the left to maintain friendly relations with the "oui de combat" - people who oppose Chirac's social policies who nonetheless will vote "yes" on 29 May.

Cynical commentators say the PCF is doing this with an eye to the 2007 presidential and general elections when it is expected to seek an electoral alliance with the Socialist Party - that in government blazed a neo-liberal trail for Chirac and Raffarin.

Olivier Besancenot, LCR spokesperson, warned that all the militancy that is being built through the "no" campaign - for, whatever one thinks of the "no" position, militancy is being built - must not end up in people putting their trust again in a pro-capitalist government or electoral lash-up.

"It is time the social-liberal [pro-capitalist] left understood that it is no longer hegemonic over the whole of the left. That it understood that you can't solve the fundamental political problems by making scandalous amalgams between the anti-capitalist ˜no' to the Constitution, for example, and that of the extreme right."

How will the LCR and others on the far-left make sure that a more permanent anti-capitalist mobilisation comes from the "no" campaign? They look to mobilisations on 1 May will be important, and to those on 16 May, when demonstrations and strikes will take place.

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