19th Jul 2019

Spotlight shifts to Chirac on referendum

  • The French President pledged to have a referendum on the Constitution during his election campaign last year (Photo: European Commission)

French President Jacuqes Chirac is holding out against a referendum on the EU Constitution despite a major U-turn by his UK counterpart Tony Blair on the issue.

Alain Juppé, Mr Chirac's closest political advisor, said "When it comes to choosing [between putting it through parliament and putting it to a public poll] we would like to take a concerted approach with our partners and in particular with Germany".

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He cautioned against following this "rather personal, and perhaps I should add, ultimately British, initiative".

Last year, during his re-election campaign, Mr Chirac pledged to have a referendum.

However, Mr Blair's move, which has been criticised in some quarters for endangering European integration for a quiet life on the domestic front, has increased the voices calling for a referendum.

"In Britain, referendums are rare. In France, they are the rule. I don't see how we can deprive people of the right to have a say. It would be a denial of democracy", Socialist Pierre Moscovici, a former European affairs minister, told Libération.

"This is the first time in my life I regret not being English", said Mr Philippe de Villiers, leader of a the small Eurosceptic Movement for France.

And in Germany?

While referendums are possible in France - voters narrowly approved the Maastricht Treaty (51%) in 1992 - they are not allowed in Germany.

But this has not stopped calls for the Constitution to be changed to enable public polls at the federal level.

Politicians in the Christian Social Party (CSU) and the liberals are asking for a referendum.

But the Social Democratic government as well as the opposition Christian Democrats have spoken out against it.

Government spokesperson Thomas Steg said a referendum was "absolutely" not being considered in Germany.

So far, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic have all said they will have a referendum.

No answer in the new treaty

Ratifying the text will become more and more of a political theme as EU leaders are set to sign the Constitution in June.

All countries must then approve the Constitution before it can come into force.

If a country says no in a poll, it can be put to the people again as happened in Ireland over the Nice Treaty. Tony Blair yesterday indicated this was also a possibility for the UK if voters said no.

For its part, the draft constitution says that if two years after the treaty is agreed, 4/5 of member states have ratified it and others are having problems then "the matter will be referred to the European Council".

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