President Jacques Chirac pledged Wednesday that France would join the growing list of countries planning to hold a referendum on the first EU constitution.
Chirac is willing to risk a "no" vote
In an interview marking France's national Bastille Day, the French leader said the national plebiscite would be organized "in the second half" of 2005. "I have confidence in the French" that they will not reject the constitution, he added.
After nearly two years of wrangling, European Union leaders agreed to the first-ever constitution for the bloc at a historic summit in Brussels last month. The document, which is designed to streamline the expanding EU's creaking institutions and prevent decision-making deadlock in the now 25-member bloc, must be ratified by all EU member states in the next two years before it comes into full force.
France has now become the latest in a line of countries who have signaled willingness to hold popular votes on the issue. Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg have already said they favored letting the people, not the parliament, decide on ratification. Poland, Spain, Belgium, Portugal the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic may also decide to call for a referendum.
Risking a "no"
The UK Independence Party urges Prime Minister, Tony Blair, not to endorse the European Constitution.
Analysts agree that a "no" vote in any one EU member state could plunge the EU into a serious crisis, given the sensitive nature of the constitution, which only came into existence through fragile compromises and marathon negotiations. Chirac, however, said it was worth the risk to allow the people a direct say in what effects them.
"The French are directly concerned, and therefore will be directly consulted," he said in a televised interview and added that he had "confidence in their ability (the French) to join in a real debate on their future."Chirac can rest assured that his countrymen will vote for the constitution. Unlike in Britain, recent opinion polls in France have shown that the public is decidedly pro-European and generally endorses more integration on the continent.