European editorials on Friday concentrated on the promise of French President Jacques Chirac to take the proposed EU constitution to a referendum.
Europe's papers universally welcomed Chirac's promise. They also saw a lot of political battling ahead.
De Volkskrant from the Netherlands put the whole affair in a longer-term context. "For the first time in the history of European unification, the majority of citizens will give their opinion about a European constitution," it wrote. "In spite of all the disadvantages, we welcome the sudden popularity of a referendum on the constitution." The paper saw "a steady dearth of democracy in the whole EU project, which is threatening its legitimacy" and believes "a referendum is one of the few chances to smuggle through the back door direct democratic control." The daily called such a referendum "playing with fire -- but the alternative, to keep going the way things are -- means in the end a more basic
danger to European unity."
L'Eclair des Pyrénées from Pau in France took an even stronger line and called it "unthinkable that the constitution wouldn't be ratified by popular vote." But the paper added that "yet again everything will become mixed up -- real European issues and national worries, the future of the EU and French ambitions.... and the fact that the French are repulsed by Brussels technocrats presents clear risks to a yes vote."
The Independent of London reminded readers that "up to 30 percent of the French electorate regularly votes for extremes of right and left, both furiously anti-European." The paper added that "if Chirac wins the referendum handsomely, he may regain sufficient momentum to launch a bid for a third term in 2007, at the age of 74. If he loses, his picaresque career will have ended in a typically Chiraqian car smash." The paper predicted the most likely outcome to be "less dramatic: a muddled and narrow yes vote, which will do nothing much to set the treaty ball rolling elsewhere -- and certainly not in the UK."
The Daily Telegraph in Britain wrote that "if the constitution fails, the next British government will have an opportunity, possibly for the last time, to propose a fundamental reform of the EU," and "unless Europe follows Britain's lead, it will doom itself to economic decline and political eclipse."