The European Union constitution has cleared its first major hurdle by winning the backing of France’s divided Socialists. The pro-constitution party members hailed a 59 percent final “yes” result in an internal poll as a signal the treaty could clear national referenda around Europe. Party chief Francois Hollande said here was proof that the treaty — needed to make the enlarged EU work smoothly — can win the people’s support.
Hollande called on conservative President Jacques Chirac to organise France’s referenda (some time next year) without mixing in domestic political interests. He said to ‘keep its character European, and resist any temptation to profit from it, which would be harmful.’ The treaty must be ratified by all 25 EU member states to come into force and referendums are planned or being talked about in several countries. The outcome came as a relief to treaty-backer Chirac and for other EU countries worried that a “no” vote in the European community founder-member France would scuttle the whole project. At the European Parliament, the result won a warm welcome. But not from all its members; French deputy Berengere Beres was one of the minority to support a “no” vote, having denounced the constitution as a blueprint for a free-market Europe. “Of course, I would have preferred the no-camp to have won. I think that the result is crystal-clear. We had extremely heavy pressure from the media, but the party activists have expressed their will of unity in the Socialist Party.” The European Socialist group leader in parliament, Martin Schulz was happy with the French performance, looking ahead to other challenges. “It’s really encouraging for all those who are in favour of Europe. I think it will increase the chances of getting a ‘yes’ in England.” Polls show about two thirds of Britons oppose the charter now; the UK and traditionally eurosceptic Denmark are due to hold referenda in 2006.