The appearance of the President of the European Commission is yet another sign of the pro- Maastricht campaign's attempt to regroup after a very shaky week. Yesterday, a new opinion poll, carried out by CSA for the newspaper Le Parisien, found that 53 per cent of voters were opposed; this follows polls showing 51 and 52 per cent opposed.
Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and now Mr Delors have all come forward to support Maastricht in the last week, though all had intended to take a back seat. Mr Mitterrand is aware that his unpopularity and that of his ruling Socialist party are factors keeping support low. Mr Chirac's conservative RPR party and Mr Giscard's centre-right UDF are divided on the issue.
Mr Delors, as the most senior member of the Commission and a former Socialist minister with ambitions, would have preferred to remain non-partisan. But yesterday at Quimper, in Brittany, he made a stinging attack on politicians who opposed ratification, saying they were 'sorcerer's apprentices' and should 'either change their attitude or get out of politics'. Given his unhappiness at the time of the negotiations over some aspects of Maastricht, it is ironic that he should now be drafted in to back it, alongside people like Mr Chirac, who has been highly critical of parts of the dense document.
Earlier, Mr Delors met Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, for 'routine' talks. In an attempt to put a positive gloss on the latest polls, Mr Delors said: 'I feel an increasing number of French are interested. Well, they must be happy to see that they have to decide on their future and reflect over it.' But he noted the slide in the 'yes' vote and drew the conclusion that 'one needs to explain, explain, explain and convince, convince, convince,' the words used earlier by Mr Mitterrand.
The emergence of all these characters on the stage may not be enough to reverse the drift away from Maastricht. Indeed, relations between the four of them are difficult at the best of times, and keeping a popular front together may be beyond them.
The best hope for the 'vote yes' camp is that the naysayers have shot their bolt too early. With the vote still three weeks away, on 20 September, and France only just returning from its annual break, the war has yet to reach its peak.
The divisions in French public opinion are evident from the most recent polls, which, while showing the 'yes' and 'no' votes evenly balanced, also show that anything between 30 and 40 per cent are either undecided or will abstain.
The surge in the 'no' vote has been in the right and centre-right constituencies of Mr Chirac and Mr Giscard. They have been sufficiently unnerved to step forward in defence of Maastricht, despite public criticism from their own parties. Since one of Mr Mitterrand's intentions in calling the referendum was to expose gaps on the right, to this extent he has been tactically successful. But if he wins this battle and loses the war for Maastricht, it will be a Pyrrhic victory indeed.Reuse content