Sarkozy criticises EU integration talks without France
By Honor Mahony
French presidential candidate and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy has chastised the 18 countries who have already ratified the EU constitution for discussing European integration without involving France.
At a political rally with around 7,000 supporters in Strasbourg on Wednesday evening (21 February), Mr Sarkozy said "I must express my sadness over the Madrid meeting where for the first time since 1945...European countries met to discuss the future of Europe without France," Mr Sarkozy said, according to news agency AP.
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Last month, a group of countries calling themselves 'friends of the EU constitution' gathered in Madrid, reaffirmed their support for the document and asked that the current political negotiations to revive the constitution keep as much as possible to the original text.
But Mr Sarkozy rejected their call saying: "This is not my idea of Europe. To repeat that everything will be OK and change nothing will lead...to a catastrophe."
France rejected by 54 percent the constitution in a referendum in 2005 leading to a political conundrum in Europe that member states have been trying to extract themselves from ever since.
Saying that the EU is in a "profound" crisis not because of the French and Dutch rejections of the constitution but because of a crisis of civilisation in Europe, Mr Sarkozy went on to repeat his ideas for a mini-treaty that would only be ratified by national parliaments.
The slim-line Sarkozy treaty would do away with unanimity voting - member states still have a right to veto in some aspects of justice and home affairs - while introducing a fixed president of the EU for a two-and-a-half year period, rather than the current 6 monthly rotation.
The interior minister's ratification ideas contrast strongly with those of Segolene Royal, his left wing challenger, who has promised that if she is elected president she will put any new look text to a referendum again.
Ms Royal, who recently has been making headlines for a series of foreign policy gaffes and criticised for not having enough substance behind her ideas, has suddenly made strong headway in the polls after weeks of trailing Mr Sarkozy.
A CSA survey published by French paper Le Parisien on Wednesday showed that if she was pitted against Mr Sarkozy in a May run-off, she would get 49 percent of the votes. Mr Sarkozy still remains ahead at 51 percent, but Ms Royal's score was four points up on last week.
Meanwhile, Francois Bayrou, occupying the centre ground, is steadily gaining in the polls with exactly two months to go before the first round of voting on 22 April.
The head of the centrist UDF party, Mr Bayrou, who is virtually unknown outside France, has been seen to be gaining from the mistakes made in the Royal camp as well as appealing to those voters who feel Mr Sarkozy to be too right wing.
Mr Bayrou would have to make it through the first round in April as only the top two candidates get through to the second round however, with polls showing him gaining but still far behind Ms Royal and Mr Sarkozy.
But French voters have already shown themselves to be unpredictable. In 2002, in a vote that shocked France as well as Europe, far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen made it through to the second round.