EU constitution is the daughter of French Revolution, says Chirac

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The Independent Online

European cultural icons, from pop singers to philosophers, turned a conference in Paris this week into a love-fest for the proposed EU constitution, as the French President made a second appearance on television to urge a "yes" vote.

European cultural icons, from pop singers to philosophers, turned a conference in Paris this week into a love-fest for the proposed EU constitution, as the French President made a second appearance on television to urge a "yes" vote.

The stars of screen, book, microphone, stage and cat-walk - including the indestructible French pop singer Johnny Hallyday, the British 1960s pop idol Marianne Faithfull, the British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the French film directors Jean-Jacques Annaud and Claude Lelouch - were officially attending a two-day "encounter for European culture" in the French capital.

The gathering turned into an unofficial meeting of "Euro-luvvies for the new EU treaty". Even Hallyday, 61, politically inactive till now, gave a short off-the-cuff statement calling on French voters to say "yes" - or maybe, "Yeah, yeah, yeah" - to the draft constitution in the national referendum on 29 May. "We must vote yes," Hallyday said. "We, the French, cannot remain outside Europe. That would be taking a step backwards. It would not be a good thing."

French voters have bounced back towards supporting the constitution, the most recent opinion polls show. Westwood advised them: "Don't bore yourselves reading all 800 pages of the treaty. Just vote 'yes'. It's so important." Faithfull said giving the EU a constitution was vital to ensure Europe was more "than just a question of corporate interests and money".

The meeting, also attended by the arts ministers of all 25 EU countries, is part of a series intended to assert the "unique" importance of European culture, and press for the promotion and defence of the arts at EU level. Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the EU presidency, appealed for a "yes" vote at the event.

President Jacques Chirac, welcoming the artists and intellectuals to the presidential palace, said the proposed constitution would defend the special qualities of European culture from "global uniformity", without imposing some kind of Euro-culture. He called for a "virtual" library of the greatest texts of European literature, to match an internet library planned by Google in the US.

"Being European does not mean abandoning oneself. It means being more French, more German, more Polish but sharing a common destiny," President Chirac said. "We are no longer able to dream of closing ourselves inside national bastions. Compartmentalisation and isolation would be fatal to our cultures."

In a 50 minute interview on France 2 television, President Chirac told French viewers the EU constitution was the "daughter" of the French Revolution of 1789. The treaty was based on values which "are in reality those of France," he said.

Asked if a "no" vote would be a personal failure, he said: "I don't know if it would be a difficult moment for me, but ... it would be a very difficult moment for France.

"[France] would emerge from this adventure considerably weakened, weakened in terms of defending its interests, its values, and responsible for a breakdown of the European project that it has been developing for 50 years."

It was the President's second television appearance to solicit support for the constitution. Although his first performance last month was criticised, he appears to have aided a reversal in the trend in the opinion polls. Two surveys yesterday, and one at the weekend, suggested the "yes" camp had regained the lead. One poll in the newspaper Le Figaro and on Europe 1 radio, showed 53 per cent of French voters backed the constitution.

Other guests at the two-day conference at the Elysée and the Palais Royal, included pop singer Françoise Hardy, the French actress Jeanne Moreau, the French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, the Polish film director Andrzej Wajda and the Spanish writer Jorge Semprun.

Moreau said: "I am voting 'yes'. It is as if you were walking by a stream and you came to a river. What do you do? Stay on the river bank? No. You get on a boat and see where it takes you."

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