French vote on EU threatens to tear apart Socialist party

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The Independent Online

The main French opposition party, the Socialists, risks being torn apart by France's referendum on the EU constitution. "The mood within the party is terrible, dramatic, the worst I've known in 20 years as a Socialist," a former minister and leading member of the party told The Independent.

The main French opposition party, the Socialists, risks being torn apart by France's referendum on the EU constitution. "The mood within the party is terrible, dramatic, the worst I've known in 20 years as a Socialist," a former minister and leading member of the party told The Independent.

François Hollande, the party's pro-treaty leader and likely presidential candidate in 2007, was booed and pelted with snowballs by anti-EU treaty Socialists and members of more extreme left-wing parties at a rally in France last week.

The former secretary general of the party, Henri Emmanuelli, told an interviewer on Friday that a Socialist vote for the constitution would be a repeat of earlier "mistakes" such as Socialist politicians' support for the collaborationist Marshal Pétain in 1940. His words produced furious denunciations from M. Hollande and other Socialist leaders and M. Emmanuelli had to apologise.

The open warfare has erupted within the Parti Socialiste despite a resounding vote by members in support of the new EU constitution in an internal referendum in December. The refusal of the party's left wing, and several senior leaders, to abide by this has wrong-footed M. Hollande.

More immediately, it threatens the bi-partisan centre-right and centre-left campaign for a "yes" vote in France's nationwide referendum on the EU treaty on 29 May. Although opinion polls still show a 60 to 40 per cent split in favour of the treaty, pro-European politicians of right and left fear high unemployment, a widespread sense of political and economic malaise, the split in the Socialists and the extreme unpopularity of the centre-right government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin could yet sink the "yes" vote.

The treaty streamlines EU decision-making, creates a permanent EU president and foreign minster and incorporates and extends the free market principles adopted by earlier EU treaties. If rejected by a large, founding member in the geographical heart of Europe, the treaty would be brain-dead, long before it goes to a UK vote.

The Eurosceptic right in Britain attacks the constitution as a blueprint for a socialistic super-state. Left-wing French Socialists, and more extreme French left-wing parties, say the new EU treaty amounts to an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy to dismantle the continental "model" of strong social guarantees and public services.

Many moderate Socialists also dislike the idea of voting again with President Jacques Chirac and M. Raffarin, which they had to do in 2002 after the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, lost the second round of the presidential election to the far-right xenophobe, Jean-Marie Le Pen. There is also opposition to the European constitution on the French right and centre-right, based partly on the "sovereignty" arguments heard in Britain, and partly on fear of future Turkish membership of the EU.

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