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Sunday, May 29, 2005

French Voters Deliver a Crushing Defeat to E.U. Charter

The International Herald Tribune:

French voters dealt a crushing defeat to the European constitution today, demonstrating their determination to punish the leaders of France and of Europe after a bitter campaign that split the country in two.

As the polls closed, the French Interior Ministry said the no camp had 57.26 percent, compared to 42.74 for yes, with nearly 83 percent of the votes counted.

The result was a shock for President Jacques Chirac and a large part of the political establishment that had campaigned for a yes vote as necessary for strengthening European unity.

It also created a challenge for the European Union, which has staked its future on the constitution.

Mr. Chirac addressed the nation 30 minutes after the result was announced. "My dear compatriots," Mr. Chirac said, "France has spoken democratically. A majority of you have rejected the constitution. This is your sovereign decision."

But he added, "France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for defending our interests in Europe."

He indicated he would reshuffle his government in the next few days.

In the no camp, politicians were positively gleeful.

"There is no more constitution," said Philippe de Villiers, a far-right politician who campaigned strenuously for a no vote. He said the vote had "exceptional legitimacy" because of the high turnout and said Mr. Chirac, who faces "a major political crisis," should dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, said Mr. Chirac should resign.

Turnout was estimated at over 70 percent, far exceeding other recent elections in France. The final figure was expected to surpass turnout in the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty 13 years ago that paved the way to the euro.

"It's a big no," said Bruno Jeanbart, director of political research at the CSA polling station. "It's a twin protest vote against the government and against Europe."


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