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Europe

French "Yes" Campaign Tries to Turn Tide

The political heavyweights of France's "Yes" campaign for the EU constitution have stepped up their efforts to persuade undecided voters to back the treaty. But the "No" camp is still ahead in the polls.

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The "Non" campaign is still leading

Supporters of the landmark EU charter from across France's political spectrum -- and from outside the country -- rallied to reach some 20 percent of voters who have not yet decided how they will vote on Sunday.

But leaders of the "No" camp, like former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius, appeared confident after the ninth opinion poll in a week indicated that they would win the referendum, saying they would not be intimidated.

The latest surveys, one by Ipsos polling institute and the other by the CSA opinion research firm, each indicated that 53 percent of decided voters would reject the treaty. According to an Ifop poll for Paris Match magazine to hit the newsstands on Tuesday, 54 percent of voters would say "No", two more percentage points than in the previous survey of May 19-20. The "Yes" vote slipped two points to 46 percent.

Kwasniewski Gerhard Schröder und Jacques Chirac in Nancy

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, right, and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, left, look on as French President Jacques Chirac answers questionas during a joint media conference in Nancy, eastern France, Thursday May 19, 2005. The leaders of France, Germany and Poland joined forces Thursday to save the European Union's embattled constitution, meeting in eastern France less than two weeks before the widely watched French referendum.

President Jacques Chirac, who has taken every available opportunity in recent weeks to defend the constitution, will make a last-ditch appeal to the French in a televised address on Thursday night, his office announced. Aides said the French president, whose prestige is riding on the outcome of Sunday's vote, wants to "shed light on the choice of the French people" and "highlight what is at stake."

With all surveys suggesting that the referendum will be won or lost on the political left, Socialist (PS) leader Francois Hollande appealed to his party faithful in the newspaper Liberation, urging them to say "Yes" to Europe's future.

"Until now, you have always made choices that allowed Europe to move forward. If you don't turn out in force on May 29, you take the risk not of creating a crisis on the right ... but a crisis in Europe," Hollande said.

Help from Spain

Hollande, who is campaigning for the treaty alongside Chirac's ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement, got a helping hand from Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

"Today, all eyes in Europe are on France," Zapatero said in a commentary in Le Figaro newspaper. "France must approve the constitution because it is the founding mother of a united Europe, because it has been the driving force behind each defining moment in the process of European construction. France must remain present."

Zapatero will be in northern France on Friday, the last official day of campaigning, to give the "Yes" camp a final boost.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, seen as an elder statesman capable of winning over swing voters, will appear on national television Tuesday to stump for the treaty. The constitution, which aims to simplify the operating rules of the expanded European Union, must be approved by all 25 EU member states. So far, seven have ratified it.

A rejection in a country as important as France -- one of the six founding members of the bloc -- would plunge the European Union into political uncertainty.

"If we don't have this constitution because one country or another doesn't approve it, it will be a serious political breakdown for the European Union," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in Brussels.

Dutch consider second vote

Meanwhile, Wouter Bos, head of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), said the Netherlands said it may consider a second referendum if Dutch voters reject the European Union constitution treaty in the first ballot set for June 1. The ballot comes three days after the French referendum.

EU Verfassung Niederlande

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende hands out flyers to inform people about the EU constitution, The Hague, the Netherlands, Friday, April 22, 2005.

If the Dutch vote "No" on the treaty, "we will have to see if the Netherlands stands alone," Bos told the daily Algemeen Dagblad, noting that 10 more European countries are expected to hold referendums. "The Netherlands could then organize a second referendum," he said.

The Dutch Labor Party pushed for a referendum on the EU treaty, along with the parties of the center-right government coalition. The Dutch referendum in eight days is not binding for the government, but the major political parties have said their members in parliament would abide by the result if voter turnout exceeds 30 percent.

Britain unveils referendum bill

Legislation to put the EU constitution before the British people in a referendum was introduced in parliament on Tuesday, along with a robust call for its adoption. The European Union Bill was introduced by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for debate and adoption in the House of Commons with a call for Britons to overcome their euroskeptic attitudes.

Großbritannien entscheidet über den Euro

Briton John Bull protests in favour of keeping the Pound, outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

"Its introduction underlines our commitment to ratify this treaty by a referendum in the United Kingdom," said Straw. "I firmly believe that this treaty is good for the
United Kingdom and good for Europe."

In a bold U-turn, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced in April last year that he would put the EU constitution to a referendum, despite opinion polls which consistently show that most Britons would reject it.

Straw has said that the referendum would probably come in the first half of next year, following Britain's six-month turn at the rotating EU presidency which begins July 1.

"I look forward to debating the facts of this treaty in the House, dispelling the many myths around it and setting out for the British public the clear case for voting 'yes'," Straw said.

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