Raffarin speaks up for EU referendum

The French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has spoken strongly in favour of a referendum on the proposed new European Union constitution, increasing pressure on Tony Blair to put the text to a popular vote in Britain.

But M. Raffarin saidit would be "an enormous risk" to hold a referendum in France at a time of gathering Euroscepticism. He said it would be equally dangerous to push through "on the quiet" changes in the way the EU is governed. If the constitution was agreed by a vote of both houses of Parliament, as the constitution allows, it would increase the sense that Europe had been "confiscated by the elites", he said.

His comments, during a trip to Russia, were reported yesterday and were intended to increase pressure on President Jacques Chirac, on whom the decision on a referendum rests.

M. Raffarin's arguments will be used by pro-referendum voices in the UK to put pressure on Mr Blair.

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