Mitterrand and Kohl to discuss 'yes' vote: In the confused aftermath of such a tight finish to France's divisive referendum on the Maastricht treaty, Julian Nundy reports from Paris that the only real jubilation is in the defeated 'no' camp

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AS FRANCE digested the implications of the 'yes' vote in the weekend referendum on the Maastricht treaty, most of the political establishment was decidedly disappointed by the narrow margin of victory. The Elysee presidential palace, meanwhile, said Chancellor Helmut Kohl would visit France today to discuss the result with President Francois Mitterrand.

With a final count of 50.81 per cent in favour and 49.18 per cent against, the only real jubilation was in the 'no' camp. Philippe Seguin, leader of the Gaullist rejection campaign, said he believed the narrow margin meant the treaty would be difficult to apply. Legally, there is no basis for this, but the strict divide does show a lack of enthusiasm for the next stages of European Union in a country which has always prided itself on being dynamically pro- European.

'In any case, the treaty was null and void because of the Danish rejection,' Mr Seguin told the Independent. 'I think the treaty's dead and I don't think they can ever really apply it.'

Leaders of the 'yes' campaign, from among the Gaullists, Socialists and centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), were anything but ebullient in their reactions the morning after, although they all expressed their relief that ratification of the treaty had been passed.

The final vote in favour was 12,967,498 - just 416,847 ahead of the 'no' vote. A regional breakdown showed that wealthy and urban areas of France plumped for the European Union treaty, while working-class and rural parts of the country tended towards the 'no' vote.

The highest 'yes' vote was in Alsace, where 65.58 per cent were in favour. Given that the region borders on Germany, this result was of particular interest since the role and history of Germany in Europe were an important part of the campaign. Both sides recalled France's many wars with Germany to bolster their positions, annoying their neighbours across the Rhine. Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital and the main seat of the European Parliament, voted in favour by a big 72.2 per cent. Picardy, just north of Paris and the scene of many bloody battles in the two world wars, had the biggest 'no' vote, with 57.5 per cent.

A poll carried out by one television channel yesterday quoted 73 per cent of treaty supporters interviewed as saying that 'peace in Europe' was their main reason for voting 'yes'. The logic, expressed by a number of French politicians, is that accelerated integration will anchor Germany firmly to democratic Europe; but 41 per cent of 'no' voters said they had opposed the treaty because of their fear of Germany, believing the treaty would consolidate German dominance.

Many French politicians were still reeling yesterday from the closeness of the vote. Given the disparate nature of the opposition to Maastricht, it illustrated the dangers of vote by referendum. Mr Mitterrand could have ratified the treaty by parliamentary means, but he suddenly opted for the referendum after the Danish referendum in June rejected the treaty.

Many 'no' voters in France followed the lead of the Communist Party or the far right National Front; others voted against to register their disillusionment with President Mitterrand, while some farmers' groups were in opposition because of EC common agricultural policy - which is not mentioned in the treaty at all. Some opponents simply wanted the Maastricht treaty to be modified and revised while others were viscerally hostile to European integration.

The 'no' vote, therefore, brought together a motley coalition of diverse groups, whereas the 'yes' lobby had the merit of being a clear one-issue group.

Now eyes will turn to the internal French political scene, and some observers expect that Mr Mitterrand - who is now 75 and was diagnosed last week as having cancer of the prostate - will start moves towards retirement. The most likely scenario is to call another referendum to reduce the current seven-year presidential mandate to five, and then go before the five years of his second term are up next May. He might, however, be reluctant to do so since the chances of a Socialist successor following him are slim, given his party's poor standing in the opinion polls.

In the conservative opposition, both the Gaullist RPR and the UDF have been split over Maastricht and it is not clear whether politicians - such as Mr Seguin, of the RPR, or Philippe de Villiers, of the UDF - can easily be reintegrated into their political families. Francois Leotard, the former president of the UDF, has said he would not want to co-operate with politicians who had voted against the European Union treaty. To judge by the festive atmosphere in the Seguin offices yesterday, this is not a prospect worrying the Gaullist 'no' campaigners.

Among the Socialists, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the former defence minister who resigned over the Gulf war last year, and Max Gallo, a writer who was spokesman for Mr Mitterrand after his original 1981 election before becoming anti-Mitterrand and anti-Maastricht, are thought likely to leave the Socialist Party and perhaps ally themselves with dissident Communists. Mr Chevenement told the Socialist Party leadership yesterday that he would abide by whatever disciplinary measures it wished to impose.

(Map omitted)