Philippe Seguin of the Gaullist RPR party. was telling 500 inhabitants of Agen, in Gascony, that they should reject the European union treaty in France's referendum on 20 September. Otherwise, he said, France and Europe would be ruled by a 'supranational technocracy'. Far from seeing rejection as an end in itself, he said it must be used to renegotiate the treaty to 'put European construction back on the rails'.
Mr Seguin, 48, is out of step with the Gaullist party leader, Jacques Chirac, who backs ratification of Maastricht in seven weeks' time. But he is probably the most respected of the anti-treaty campaigners. His political and intellectual pedigree is impeccable and he has never shown any tendency towards excess. A deep, gravelly voice, possibly conditioned by heavy smoking of filter-less Gitanes, adds gravitas.
A graduate of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, France's elite civil service school, he was an academic before joining the staff of President Georges Pompidou in 1973. He worked for Raymond Barre in 1977 when Mr Barre was prime minister, and was elected to the National Assembly in 1978. From 1986 to 1988 he was Social Affairs Minister in Mr Chirac's 'cohabitation' cabinet. The author of several books, one of his most recent is a biography of Louis Napoleon.
While flying to Agen in a twin- prop Beech 99, Mr Seguin explained that his opposition to Maastricht became concrete some months before last December's European summit in the Dutch city, because he saw 'during the preparatory work that it was going towards this sort of solution'. Asked what he objected to particularly, he said, 'All of it is bad,' then added that a common currency, with authority for monetary policy out of the hands of member states, bothered him most.
In any case, the treaty on which the French would be voting could not be that which would be applied, he said. Since the Danish referendum rejection, the text would have to be adjusted to accommodate 11 members.
While opinion polls still give the 'yes' vote a majority in France, the margin is narrowing. A poll earlier this month gave 42 per cent to the 'yes' vote, 32 to rejection, with a large 26 undecided or planning to abstain. One European embassy in Paris has concluded from its own soundings that the 'no' vote is potentially greater than projected by the French media.
In the Gaullist party, well over one-third of parliamentarians publicly support Mr Seguin. He believes his grass-roots backing among Gaullists to be nearer 80 per cent. Socialists and the centre-right Union for French Democracy have small minorities against Maastricht. The National Front and the Communist Party are committed to rejection.
Mr Seguin compared the debate over Maastricht with moves in 1954 to create a European defence community. Then, the concept of an integrated European army was under discussion. With the re-creation of a German army unthinkable, this was a way of setting up a military structure to which German soldiers could belong, but it would also have meant the end of other national armies.
When rejected by the French Fourth Republic's Chamber of Deputies, warnings of chaos had been given, similar to those by the pro-Maastricht campaigners now, Mr Seguin said. 'A few months later, the Western European Union was created, then the Treaty of Rome founding the EC was negotiated. Nothing was interrupted at all. European construction was simply put back on the rails.' Now, he said, 'for the second time, the supranational federalists are trying to create the irreparable'.
President Francois Mitterrand said on 14 July that a French 'no' vote would 'break Europe'. His most frightening argument was that a rejection of European Union would herald a return to nationalism and insecurity on the Continent. A Socialist Party poster for the 'yes' campaign, unveiled this week, shows a composite dictator with a tooth-brush moustache. Mr Seguin called this 'a barely disguised appeal to Germanophobia'.
If France voted 'no' in September, he said, John Major - with Britain holding the European presidency - should call an emergency summit 'very, very quickly' to begin a renegotiation.
Maastricht was drawn up without taking events in eastern Europe into account, he said. A new treaty should aim at setting up a continent-wide common market with a real regional security system. And a 'high authority of the environment' should be created to head off any more Chernobyls.
As the Beech 99 started the return leg and Mr Seguin turned to play cards, he said: 'Major could become the saviour of Europe.'
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