Polls open in France

29.05.05 @ 08:19

  1. By Elitsa Vucheva

BRUSSELS - The French are heading for the polls in a key vote on the European constitution - some 42 million citizens are eligible to vote.

The concrete question they will have to answer is: "Do you approve the bill authorising the ratification of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe?"

The polls opened at 8:00 CET and will close at 20:00 CET, except for the two biggest cities, Paris and Lyon, where they will close two hours later.

The results will not be made public until after the last polling booths have closed.

The official campaign on the referendum started on 16 May and ended on 28 May at midnight.

However, both Yes and No supporters have been campaigning for months.

On Thursday (26 May) the No was still ahead (55 per cent), according to an Ipsos poll, with 66 per cent of the people saying their choice is definitive.

Only 23 per cent predicted a Yes victory, compared to 49 per cent saying they thought the No would win.

And on Friday, an Ifop poll put the No camp at 56 per cent, whereas a TNS Sofres poll put it at 51 per cent.

The undecided

But although the polls put the No camp in a leading position, they also showed that about one fifth of the French remained undecided, the percentages depending on the companies carrying out the surveys.

According to the last Ipsos poll for Le Figaro/Europe 1 published on Thursday (26 May), 23 per cent of those questioned say they have not chosen their camp yet.

On top of that, 11 per cent stated they might still change their mind.

Other elements will also play a role.

Overseas territories

Electors in French overseas territories voted on Saturday (28 May), with polls opening at 12:00 CET.

The referendum oversees was held a day earlier because of the time difference, and in order to prevent the voting process from continuing after results in Metropolitan France are already announced.

France’s nine overseas territories have some 1.4 million potential electors.

During the treaty of Maastricht in 1992, when they last voted on an EU treaty, they came out with 69 per cent in favour - but they have traditionally low turnouts during EU-related votes.

Abstention in 1992 varied from 70 to 83 per cent, depending on the departments, compared to 30.31 per cent in Metropolitan France.

And during the last European elections, in June 2004, 72 per cent of the people in these territories did not vote.

This is the 10th time the French are expressing themselves by referendum since the Fifth Republic was established in 1958 and it is the third EU-related referendum.

In 1992, France only narrowly approved the Maastricht treaty - which paved the way to the euro - with 51 percent.