A French 'no' will break Europe says Mitterrand

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THE FRENCH President, Francois Mitterrand, told the nation yesterday that it would 'break Europe' if it rejected the Maastricht treaty. Interviewed on television to mark Bastille Day, Mr Mitterrand said that a 'no' vote on ratification in the French referendum on 20 September would 'put an end to 45 years of France's foreign policy'. It 'would break Europe, because there would be no more impetus, no one would believe in it anymore'.

An opinion poll published last week showed that 42 per cent of voters planned to vote for ratification, while 32 per cent were against, the highest figure so far. The other 26 per cent were undecided or planned to abstain.

Mr Mitterrand's fear is one that is expressed across the French political spectrum: that a rejection of Maastricht by France, which Mr Mitterrand described as 'a motor' of Europe, would not just halt European construction at its current stage but destroy all that the EC has achieved so far.

Mr Mitterrand said the position of France, one of the six original founders of the EC, 'was decisive' for Europe. A rejection of the Maastricht European union treaty would herald a return to nationalism and 'the risk of conflicts' on the continent, he said.

While few French politicians will say so publicly, in private they express concern that a rejection of Maastricht would particularly affect Germany, which has invaded France three times in the past 120 years, turning it away from European construction to dwell on its internal problems.

'German public opinion is already drifting away from the Community,' one leader of the conservative Union for French Democracy (UDF) said recently. 'We must not leave Germany face-to- face with itself. That would be playing with fire. France is obsessed by Germany.' Reacting to Mr Mitterrand's words, Philippe de Villiers, a rare anti-Maastricht campaigner in the UDF, said the President had 'used the big artillery of politicians' propaganda' in an attempt 'to frighten the French on the theme of 'Maastricht or chaos' . . . '

Mr Mitterrand was speaking after presiding over the annual Bastille Day parade along the Champs-Elysees. Among the novelties this year was a flypast by a Transall transport plane, painted in UN white. The aircraft is being used to ferry aid to Sarajevo.

Another was a rendering of the 'Marseillaise' by the French Army choir and 500 members of the three branches of the armed forces to mark the anthem's 200th anniversary this year. The 'Marseillaise' is currently a subject of controversy, since some critics believe its words are too blood-curdling for the modern world. Danielle Mitterrand, the President's wife, is a member of a committee working on the words.

One suggestion is to Maastrichtise the anthem, replacing, for example, 'your bloody ramparts are fallen' with 'no more frontiers with our European neighbours'. If, however, the committee is successful, the changes will probably have to go to a referendum, as the text is enshrined in the Constitution.