Richard North, 04/03/2005  

President Chirac has clearly decided to bring the happy day forward: the referendum will now be on May 29, some months ahead of the original plan.

The lead of the Yes campaign has been steadily whittled down. At present it stands at 58 to 42, but the campaign has not started yet. In 1992, a sizeable lead was whittled down to a bare (and rather controversial) win of 51.05 per cent after a long and seemingly good campaign on the part of Mitterand’s government and, in particular, the Minister for Europe, Elisabeth Guigou.

Some of the political heavyweights are already lining up on the no side - Philippe de Villiers, Jean-Pierre Chevenement and Laurent Fabius, among others.

Much of the campaign is likely to revolve round the proposed entry of Turkey into the Union and the social reforms introduced by the French government because of the stagnating economy but seen by many as the direct result of EU legislation.

Though Chirac’s calculation is clearly to prevent too long a lead-in as that might give the no side an even better chance, some commentators feel that a spring referendum is not necessarily a good idea. The March European Council is likely to make yet another attempt to relaunch the Lisbon Agenda for jobs and economic development. This, in turn, may increase various social concerns.

France, as the self-proclaimed European champion, has tried to be the epitome of the European model – so much more civilized and relaxed than the growth at all costs North American one. Unfortunately, recent economic data have shown that the “European model” is not precisely viable. This will be a hard pill for the French to swallow and they may take their anger on the government in its guise of the yes campaign.

At the very least, the result is expected to be very close.

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