Colourful viscount rallies 'no' vote: Julian Nundy watches Philippe de Villiers, a former minister, whip up anti-Maastricht feeling in Chartres

AT THE end of the evening, the crowd stood for the 'Ode to Joy', the European anthem. The speaker stepped down from the podium decked with the French and European flags to the applause of more than 700 followers.

Two hours before, when he began his speech, Philippe de Villiers urged his listeners to form 'a grand 'no' chain' against ratification of the Maastricht treaty in the 20 September French referendum, 'like a Tupperware chain where you persuade another 10 or 20 people'. His theme, illustrated by a banner behind the stage, was 'Save Europe. No to Maastricht'.

Hinting that he had access to one of the regular and confidential police polls which are considered the most accurate soundings of public opinion in France, he said the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns were running neck and neck with just a week to go. The result 'could be just a matter of 300,000 votes' among France's 38 million voters. And he added a new element. Of the 25 to 30 per cent of undecided voters, 21 per cent tended towards support for Maastricht while 51 per cent were potential 'no' voters, he said.

The choice of the cathedral city of Chartres for one of Mr Villiers' big campaign rallies was appropriate for a politician who is anything but run-of-the- French-mill. Mr de Villiers - full name Viscount Philippe le Jolis de Villiers de Saintignon - is, at 43, a traditionalist Catholic with an anti-abortion, anti-contraception message. His appeal, backed by his movement called 'Combat for Values', appears strongest among middle-class provincial Catholics, the nearest France has to a silent majority.

A politician who has made his career, including a brief spell as junior culture minister in the 'cohabitation' government of 1986 to 1988, in the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, he is now out of step with his parliamentary colleagues and few expect him to remain allied to the UDF for long.

With family links to the 19th- century writer the Comtesse de Segur, who wrote moral tales for childen which are still popular in the best bourgeois nurseries, his fief is the Vendee on the Atlantic coast south of Brittany. He wrote the script and set up a now regular summer sound and light show in the department, depicting the massacre of royalist Vendeen peasants by revolutionaries in the Terror of 1793. Royalist passions are still strong in the area and Mr de Villiers, the president of the department's council, is a fitting representative.

Mr de Villiers has always been known for a sharp tongue. When he worked for Francois Leotard, the 'cohabitation' culture minister, their relations were fraught, although they were from the same political family. Mr de Villiers once said of his boss: 'I lent him a book but he hasn't finished colouring it yet.'

Now, on the campaign platform, his style is surprisingly populist. Painting an Orwellian picture of the powers of the European Commission, he talks of a Europe run by 'people who earn money while they sleep', of a 'little Europe of the wealthy', of Euro-enthusiasts who, 'like kid-goats on a stool bounce up and down shouting 'Europe, Europe, Europe'.'

Like the other main anti-Maastricht campaigners, who are in a minority in the mainstream French parties, one of the Mr de Villiers' main complaints is that the treaty does not provide for the early integration of the former Communist states of East Europe and the former Soviet Union. They should have been allowed to 'plant their flags' in Brussels immediately, he insists.

Maastricht would consecrate 'a wall of institutions, a monetary wall, a wall of the rich. We completely messed up decolonisation and now we are messing up the entry into Europe of countries which suffered in prison, of this post-penitentiary Europe. We are about to create a new Latin America.'

Scoffing at the 'yes' campaigners' contention that a rejection of the Maastricht treaty by the French would lead to chaos, Mr de Villiers said the European Community could survive the crisis under the existing Treaty of Rome, the European Monetary System and the forthcoming Single Market while new provisions were negotiated.

Of John Major's speech this week warning of the dangers of a French rejection, he pointed out that Britain, by refusing the social charter and seeking an exemption clause, was in an exceptional situation. 'For an Englishman, it's easy. He didn't sign the same treaty. That's very English.'

As for Denmark, which rejected Maastricht in its own referendum in June, he found a silver lining. Denmark, he said, was 'dragged through the mud by the wise men, by the nomenklaturas and the oligarchies. Then what happened? It became the European soccer champion.'

PARIS - Simone Veil, the former president of the European Parliament, told an international women's conference that Frenchwomen should back the Maastricht treaty because the European Community had been instrumental in securing their rights, Reuter reports.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker