President Jacques Chirac has made a last televised plea to the French people urging them to vote in favor of the European constitution on Sunday. But rejection may not mean the end of all the draft's 448 articles.
The "no" camp added to its lead after Chirac's appeal
Chirac's appeal came as a "no" vote looked more and more likely, the latest opinion polls give the treaty’s opponents 55 percent. The president called the proposed constitution vital to France's future and implored voters not to use the trip to the polls as a chance to vote against his government.
Thursday's primetime broadcast, which was carried by all the main channels, was the French president's final chance. Even though he went on TV urging for a "yes," it was his opponents who gained momentum, giving them a 10-point lead two days ahead of the referendum.
Chirac tried to outline the constitution's advantages Thursday night
"Europeans would perceive a rejection of the treaty as a 'no' to Europe," Chirac said, hoping to influence the 20 percent of voters who remain undecided or said they may change their mind before voting. "It would open a period of divisions, doubts, uncertainties."
He went on to list the advantages the treaty held for France as he saw it: a more powerful voice in Europe with stronger voting rights and protection of the traditional French social economic model.
Opponents increase lead
The problem for the president and all the other "yes" campaigners is that these arguments have had no lasting impact. Even efforts by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who are due in France late Friday, to lend a helping hand to the stumbling "yes" bid may come too late as the "no" camp remains stubbornly ahead.
The French President has had plenty of help from abroad. He's pictured here with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, right, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, center
As French unemployment hovers at 10 percent and Chirac's approval rating at 39 percent, the referendum is largely seen as much more of a plebiscite for his government than a decision on the constitution itself.
''We must not mistake the question," Chirac said. ''It is not about saying 'yes' or 'no' to the government. It is about your future, that of your children, of the future of France and the future of Europe."
Though it may be too little too late, Chirac hinted that he would shake up his team in the event of a negative vote by promising to bring a "new impetus" to his team. Though he ruled out his own resignation, some expect to see France's most popular right-wing politician, Nicolas Sarkozy, taking over for current Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
A second referendum?
Resigned to the fact that the French as well as the Dutch, who vote on the constitution June 1, will in all likelihood cast the 448-article document aside, politicians have already begun making arrangements on ways of salvaging the treaty.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
While Raffarin (photo) has already ruled out repeating the referendum, others believe there's a chance that the French will be asked to return to the ballot box a second time if the EU's other member states ratify the constitution, which needs to be approved by all 25 EU members before going into effect.
Calling the constitution "too valuable not to defend," Peter Hintze, the German Christian Democrat opposition's European affairs spokesman, told the Financial Times Deutschland the French should "have a second try."
Italy's Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini also said he didn't believe a French non would be the end of the constitution.
"The heads of government should invite those countries which have not done so to ratify the treaty, to avoid the impression that the 'no' of one country irreversibly ends up stopping the process for all of Europe," Fini told La Stampa newspaper Friday. "If some parts could be taken out of context, others might finish up being re-examined and slightly modified."