Richard North, 21/11/2004  

Sleuths in the Independent today have picked up an inside story from last week’s meeting between Blair and Chirac, reporting that Chirac has warned that French Socialists could destroy the EU constitution.

Chirac believes there is there is now a strong possibility that France will reject the constitution when it votes in a referendum next year. "If the vote was held today, we would lose it," Mr Chirac has also been saying this to anxious visitors and telephone callers from other European capitals.

The President's pessimism is based on assessments by the French security services, and by Mr Chirac's own sensitive political antennae, of the likely outcome of a ballot of members of the 120,000 members of the Parti Socialiste on 1 December.

France's main opposition party - created by the passionately pro-European François Mitterrand - is split down the middle with the party's first secretary, François Hollande, campaigning for a "yes" vote while his number two, former prime minister and finance minister Laurent Fabius, has been pleading for a "no".

If the party's 120,000 "militants", or card-carrying members, vote on 1 December to commit the Socialist Party to campaign for a "non", it is difficult to see how Chirac could win the nationwide referendum, expected in the second half of next year.

If France does vote "non", the treaty, says the Independent, would be a dead letter. It is inconceivable that other EU countries could implement the new arrangements, excluding or marginalising a country like France, which is politically, economically and historically part of Europe's "core".

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