EC treaty loses ground in France

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PARIS - Support for a 'no' vote in the French referendum on Maastricht next month is growing, but a majority still back ratification, says an opinion poll published yesterday, writes Julian Nundy.

The poll, in the daily Liberation, showed a third of French voters planned to vote against, while 45 per cent would vote for. Twenty-two per cent said they would abstain or had not decided. The poll showed a progression of 7 per cent for the 'no' vote over a similar sounding two months ago, when the referendum was announced. The number of undecided voters fell by 10 points, but only three of these moved across to support of the European union treaty.

In voting terms, it would mean a majority of 57 per cent to 43 if the vote were held now. This brings some comfort for the government of Pierre Beregovoy. He has seen his own popularity slide sharply over the past few weeks. There have been fears that the Socialist government's commitment to Maastricht could have a negative affect on the referendum result. Of the mainstream parties, only the Gaullist RPR is seriously divided, with just over a third of its politicians backing rejection.

News of the poll findings bolstered share prices on the Paris Bourse after a nervous week in which rumours circulated that a poll was about to be published giving rejection a majority. However, the validity of poll findings at a time when many French voters are on holiday is difficult to determine. Some analysts, not all favouring 'no', say that polls so far have underestimated the real strength of the negative vote.