French Referendum: Sighs of relief at French 'yes': Judgement in Paris

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The Independent Online
PARIS - The scene at the European Commission's Paris headquarters resembled an unsuccessful cocktail party. As the first exit polls were broadcast, the star guest, Jacques Delors, was nowhere to be seen. He prefered to shut himself away with the other French Commissioner, Christiane Scrivener, the Baroness Thatcher lookalike responsible for taxation matters, and other close aides, to watch the result in private.

Knots of EC groupies, mostly dressed for the catwalk, stood draped before the television screens as a team of caterers laid out elaborate food for invisible multitudes. As confirmation of the 'yes' vote victory was broadcast, there was a collective sigh of relief and the crowd moved to the table. There was a distinct air of anti-climax, not least about the dessert, which was not as good as it looked.

As the Socialist Party leader, Laurent Fabius, declaimed 'vive l'Europe, vive la republique, vive la France', Mrs Scrivener appeared and announced that the President was 'extremely relieved'. Personally, she said, she had never believed it could be no. 'It means we can now forge ahead. It has also reconfirmed France's European credentials, I'm glad there was a proper debate, we have always been pro European but perhaps only superficially. These views are now more firmly based.'

In Compiegne, north of Paris, the officials in charge of the polling station had predicted the 'yes' vote by lunchtime. Electors were handed two cards marked yes and no, one of which they had to seal in an envelope. By collecting the cards left behind in the polling booths it was possible to see a trend.

Voting was an exercise of the utmost seriousness. One worried man said he couldn't decide. He would have to come back later, or maybe he wouldn't vote at all.

For all the sense of relief now that it is all over, no one is nave enough to assume that the vote returns the EC to the status quo ante. When Mr Delors did finally appear, it was not with a victorious swagger but with the humility of one who knew that he had only just got away with it.

After posing for photographs, he spoke privately to journalists, warming to all themes on which he has pronounced before. That he spent the time at all is a reflection on the Commission's new determination to explain itself before a greater public. Still the European Community's most powerful politician, he left the building, just a tired man in a suit.