Chirac tries to bolster EU campaign

An embattled Jacques Chirac this week appeared live on television in an attempt to swing reluctant France around to a yes vote in the country’s referendum for the European constitution.

His campaign has so far failed to allay deep-rooted French fears that they are about to fall under the dark shadow of an Anglo-Saxon, neo-liberal model of Europe.

But a poll at the weekend reversed a run of 23 consecutive opinion polls, putting the rejectionists in front. The new poll, conducted by TNS Sofres-Unilog, put the yes vote at 52% against 48% in the no camp. But with a quarter determined to abstain and 13% undecided, the outcome is still on a knife edge with less than a month to go.

On Monday the French president wheeled out a group of ageing French celebrities to bolster his lacklustre campaign.
Singers Johnny Hallyday and Francoise Hardy, filmmakers Jean-Jacques Annaud and Claude Lelouch, and actor Jeanne Moreau joined Marianne Faithfull and designer Vivienne Westwood in a meeting of European culture ministers intended to underline the message that France would not lose its cultural identity under the proposed constitution.

“Being European does not mean abandoning oneself,’’ Chirac said. “It means being more French, more German, more Polish, but sharing a common destiny.’‘

In an argument familiar to a British audience, Chirac claimed that France would become stronger working within an enlarged EU than by going it alone.

“Our nations can at last forge a common destiny supported by the same ideas,’’ he said. “That is what allows you today to adopt a constitution to found the future of our continent, not only on the union of our economic interest but also on a community of values, of principles and ideas that makes Europe a unique whole.’‘

Chirac is playing for high stakes. On the week of his 10th anniversary as president, his popularity has sunk to new lows — only 28% say they are satisfied with his presidency — and his centre-right government is in trouble over a modest proposal to declare Whitsun (May 15) a working holiday and donate a day’s wages to a social fund for the elderly and disabled.

On Monday his unpopular Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, set up the fund, designed to raise â,¬2-billion, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy France faced two years ago when a summer heatwave killed 15 000 people. But Raffarin faced a legal challenge for “forced labour’’ in the courts, and many unions have vowed to strike that day. — Â

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