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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power