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Panic At the Elysée

photo, non banner, marche daguerre

Hustling 'non' at the marché.

The Big NON

Paris:– Monday, 30. May 2005:– By now the result of France's vote for or against accepting the European Constitution has been broadcast around the world, allowing France to yet again astonish its enemies and confound its friends. However the surprise was felt within France too, and on the winning side there was thin joy as well.

Since the socialists and other assorted lefties helped re–elect Jacques Chirac as Présidentphoto, oui posters of France in the spring of 2002, voters have returned several times to the polls to vote against the right–wing majority and the president. With each slap in the face the country's political leader has said he's heard the 'message,' but kept up with the same old program.

The 'same old program' isn't Europe or its constitution. It's just a vote that came along and got in the way of a freight train of dissatisfaction. 'La France–d'en–bas' – the little folks – is fed up with having its 'messages' ignored, so it has just gone out and pulled the fire alarm.

What a mess! There isn't a politician in France today that can take any satisfaction from this. When an earthquake happens everybody gets stuck in the wreckage. In this case it looks like the French have set a tidal wave in motion and it does not look like there are any well–equipped rescue workers around.

Paris Votes OUI

If you don't speed–listen to the weather forecasts on the radio you might swear that Paris has no weather at all, and a lot of weather happens in far–off Brittany and around Marseille. In the same vein all of France voted 'non' yesterday just about everywhere, and it is today's paper that finally tells me that Paris voted 'oui.'

With a turnout five points higher than the national average, Parisians voted 66.5 percent 'oui' and 33.5 percent 'non.' The two arrondissements with the poorest showing both had 53 percent in favor of the constitution. Four arrondissements had favorable votes close to 80 percent. Other than dissident socialists in the 'non' camp, Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë turned out to be the only socialist leader that delivered the 'oui' goods.

The Big NON

Sunday – After one of the hardest–fought campaigns anyone can remember in France, polling for acceptance or rejection of the European Constitution ended tonight at 20:00 throughout France and at 22:00 in Paris and Lyon. Voter turnout was high and the suspense stretched its tendons to the limit, to the end.

With the closing of the polls, thephoto, oui non posters 'winner' has turned out to be the partisans of the NON vote, rejecting the European Constitution which would have formed the basis of law for 450 million Europeans, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to Russia.

Initial estimates have posted the results as 55 percent for the 'non' and 45 percent for the 'oui.' This is decisive, coupled with a national turnout estimated to be near 70 percent of registered voters, both in France and in its overseas territories.

This is a bitter blow to all centrist leaders from right to left and is an electroshock for France's Président, Jacques Chirac, who called for the vote in the first place. Tonight's vote comes as yet another in a string of electoral rejections of his presidency.

Aside from Spain which has already voted to accept the Constitution, there are eight other countries that have planned referendums. Holland, which has had a problem getting anyone interested in the campaign which winds up at the ballot boxes on Wednesday, will not be reassured by tonight's result in France.

Meanwhile there is gloom in the various headquarters of the mainstream parties here, while victory fêtes by opponents were already under way before the polls closed, with the Communists singing the 'Internationale.' A reporter stationed at the 'non' headquarters of the dissident Socialists said they were ready to 'faire la fête toute la nuit.'

Jacques Chirac, speaking from the Elysée Palace 30 minutes after polls closed said, "It's your decision," and went on to say that France will continue to respect its obligations vis–a–vis Europe. But in conclusion he added that the French can expect a 'nouvelle impulsion' from the government within a few days.

Leader of the president's party, the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy, on television immediately afterwards, gave what would have sounded like a campaign speech, for president of France, as if 2007 isn't far off. Nicolas should think twice before setting out to run for so long.

Urge To Be

Friday – There are problems with the European Constitution but they apply to all constitutions. In Europe's new one there are articles of a few simple words that should be easy to understand. For example, Article II-62.2 in the Fundamental Rights section says, "Nobody can be condemned to death or executed."

If ratified, this will apply to 450 million people living in the 25 member states of the European Union. I expect that clever legal minds will find ways to interpret the eight simple words above and convince a judge somewhere that the opposite is really meant, but until then I would vote for a constitution that bars the death penalty and hope for the best.

The most impassioned champions of the Constitution will freely admit that some of it is not perfect. Articlesphoto, villiers non poster that may seem a bit vague are backed up with 'Declarations' that spell out the meaning more exactly, and past European Court decisions are added if they aid clarity.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in Article II-71.1. It says, "Everyone has the right to free expression, including the exchange of opinions, without interference by the authorities and without consideration of frontiers." This is a long one and the subject is complicated so we can expect that this will see its day in courts to come.

The debate around the Constitution has been somewhat obscure because very few people have read it. The opposition has used this ignorance shamelessly by citing dubious practices that are happening today, saying they will be totally uncontrolled in the future.

In other words, if the Constitution consists of apples, they are saying it lacks oranges. Or they are saying that because it is so economically 'liberal,' we will all have to go to Poland to work for the wages there. Or just as bad, Poles will invade France and work for Polish wages here. Some very smart people will insist that the Constitution guarantees this.

The Constitution offers the very protections that the opposition says it lacks. Behavior that can't be governed by a Constitution is a used as an example for why the Constitution is bad. You are not going to get to bed this week if you want to argue about it. The arguments against the Constitution are complicated while its Articles are simple.

The official campaign to educate the voters has been a colossal flop. The opposition has used this fact for its advantage. They can say anything and this is what they have been doing.

For example, they say the 'liberal' aspects of the Constitution will cause massive unemployment. It is hard to understand how it could be made worse that it already is, under the 'old' rules. Voting against the Constitution is like voting for continued unemployment, rather than for the future.

The French government's 'reform' plans, delocalizations, unemployment, low wages, globalization, are all problems of right now, of the present right-wing 'liberal' government. Many votersphoto, polling station have been conned into believing that their present problems will worsen if the Constitution is ratified.

Voters tend to recall the past somewhat more easily than the future so even if the Constitution is about Europe, they are probably going to vote against the government.

Well, life is a gamble. The French can vote to maintain their miserable present and what they know, or they can cast a ballot for the unknown future.

Polling station in Paris.

As far as Europe is concerned, it has always been a risky business. This European Union thing stumbles along from crises to crises, from boiling pot to frying pan, but it has always managed to step back from brinks in the nick of time. Against all odds, formidable odds, impossible odds, the European Union exists. It has an urge to be.

Nicolas Sarkozy Suffers

Saturday – As a rule the press in France doesn't waste a lot of newsprint on the private affairs of politicians unless they intrude into the public sphere, usually in the form of messing with money in a careless way. While the habitués of social and political Parisian salons routinely trade rumor, innuendo, true lies and scandal, they don't share it with the hoi polli.

This is not to say that there are no 'people' magazines. These exist but are mainly at the service of the entertainment business, serving up PR tidbits for folks waiting to get their teeth pulled or their prescriptions renewed.

Until recently France's hottest Monsieur Go–Go, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Cécilia, were a frequent item on the 'people' circuit. He, Nicolas, had moved up from being mayor of the swank Paris suburb of Neuilly to being minister of the interior – the country's head cop – then moved over to the finance hot seat at Bercy, and from there he switched to being the president of the major right–wing party, the UMP.

All of this is part of a plan that will see Nicolas elected as president of France in 2007, and wife Cécilia was marching along hand–in–hand, perfectly matching her husband's short strides. Cécilia kept Nicolas' appointment book up to date as well as keeping the appointments with him.

The President of France, Jacques Chirac, decided to do a good thing for the French by getting them vote 'oui' for the new European Constitution. Quite naturally, to aid this mission, he called on the services of Nicolas - as head of the UMP party, Jacques' party in fact – to campaign for a 'oui' vote, which he has been doing.

Some doubt Nicolas' sincerity, some doubt that Nicolas is focused on anything other than the office of president, and some think he has tunnel vision, but he was out there campaigning like a real trooper. Until last Sunday that is, when he failed to turn up on the evening news program at the commercial station, TF–1. That set those salons buzzing!

Nicolas skipped a chance to be on the news? Every shot at the news is a step on the way to the Elysée Palace. A spokesman said the UMP president was tired. Tired? Monsieur 24/24, 7/7, Nicolas Sarkozy is tired? Incomprehension.

Then on Thursday evening the number one presidential pretender turned up in the news studio of France–3. Expecting him to launch into a plea for a 'oui' vote on Sunday, viewers were probably somewhat baffled when Sarkozy opened with, "Go on – do your nice job."

With an air of resignation he continued, mentioning "the craziest rumors." He added that there are, "Family difficulties," but, "There is no affair."

While the audience was wondering what this might be about, Sarkozy continued, hinting at a world of unscrupulous blows, demanding respect for himself and his family, saying he would protect them.

After using the word 'respect' several times he returned to his preoccupation, his determination, "Nothing will divert me from my chosen route," probably meaning his intention to become president of France. "I stay serene and I stay calm. I believe in my ideas."

With this, Sarkozy shrugged off his air of depression and launched into a typically passionate but routine pitch for a 'oui' vote for the European Constitution.

If nothing else Nicolas Sarkozy is popular with a solid majority of UMP party members, who are ready to vote 'oui' at the polls on Sunday. All the same he probably expects all thephoto, non oui posters possibilities, including a small to big victory for the 'non.' Since he himself has campaigned with energy, any defeat will be solely the responsibility of Jacques Chirac. The theory is, a 'non' will prevent Chirac from running for president again.

Either way, Sarkozy will have 22 months to convince the UMP and the French that he should become president in 2007. But should the 'oui' win he will still be ahead, well able to overcome the suspicion that his 'liberal' European stance wasn't meant to sink the referendum.

Jacques Chirac has been cooked before. He has risen from the ashes and he is still around, and regardless of how the vote goes on Sunday, he will still be president on Monday. Speculation has it that Jean–Pierre Raffarin will resign as prime minister, to be replaced by Dominique de Villepin.

This tall man may not be so loved as little Nicolas, but the French are having no trouble escaping the notion that he may be equally ambitious. After having a 90 minute chat with Chirac on Friday evening he may be well prepared to hit the ground running on Monday.

Finally there's Cécilia, or more to the point, where is Cécilia? If she's not Nicolas Sarkozy's right–hand man, what's she up to? According to the Swiss daily, Le Matin, this is 'one of the best–kept secrets of the République,' one that Nicolas Sarkozy isn't sharing with us.

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