Richard North, 02/01/2005  

In his televised New Year address, president Chirac has announced that he will hold a referendum on the EU constitution "before summer".

"You, the sovereign people, will be called on to choose your own destiny," he told viewers, effectively launching the campaign.

This means that the French referendum will be held at roughly the same time as the British general election, which should provide some interesting moments for Mr Blair if he tries to keep EU issues off the election agenda.

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