The Sterling Crisis: Treaty breaks up political families of all hues: Maastricht winners and losers

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The Independent Online
ONE thing is certain about Monday: few in France will have it in them to say 'plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose'. Whether the French choose to vote 'yes' or 'no' in Sunday's referendum on the Maastricht treaty, the shock-waves of 15 weeks of campaigning on issues which are only vaguely understood by the population at large will be felt for months.

Political families have been split across the board with new figures emerging as strongmen. The consequence is already billed as 'a political recomposition', the erosion of old alliances and the gradual development of a new political scene.

If the French plump for a 'no', of course, the immediate crisis and attempts to control it, will concentrate the minds of the political leaders and pundits for many weeks.

Speculation about the fate of President Francois Mitterrand will intensify. Although the doctors who found cancerous tissue in his prostate gland depict the problem as minor, it draws attention to how long Mr Mitterrand, who is 75 but has nearly three years to serve before the end of his mandate, should remain in office.

If the 'yes' vote takes it, the scenarios could be simple. If the President so desires, he can call a referendum on reducing the presidential term from seven to five years, a measure which has wide public support, apply the measure to himself and bow out gracefully next year. If the 'no' vote wins, he is expected to remain to manage the crisis.

But whatever happens, the spotlight will probably remain on the main 'no' campaigners. At the extremes, Georges Marchais and Jean-Marie Le Pen, respectively leaders of the Communist Party and the far-right National Front, have been in the public eye for years and their views on Maastricht came as no surprise.

In the established political parties and in business or economic circles, however, the 'no' campaign has brought to the fore new personalities. Their opposition, unlike that of the Communists or the National Front, is not a visceral or ideological dislike of European union. They consider aspects of the Maastricht treaty dangerous for economic or security reasons, and that it aims to protect an existing rich countries' club and does not cater for the new democracies of east Europe and the former Soviet Union.

At first the 'no' campaigners, or the handful campaigning for an abstention, were painted as virtual pariahs. As the campaign has progressed, however, their break with the political establishment has earned them admiration.

The biggest winner so far is Philippe Seguin, of the Gaullist RPR party, who was one of the first to make his opposition to Maastricht known. At first, Mr Seguin, 49, the former social affairs minister in the 1986-1988 'cohabitation' cabinet of Jacques Chirac, was treated as an oddity, not representative of his party or its thinking. As time went by, however, he was joined by a third of his parliamentary colleagues and two thirds of grass-roots Gaullist voters.

Now, after he appeared in a televised debate with Mr Mitterrand on 3 September, Mr Seguin is even tipped as a future prime minister - under Mr Mitterrand. Mr Seguin's courtesy, seen as almost obsequious by some, towards the President, prompted Mr Le Pen to say that he had guaranteed himself a place in the next 'cohabitation' government expected to emerge from parliamentary elections next March. Sources close to Mr Mitterrand say the President has developed a deep respect for the dissident Gaullist. If the 'no' were to pass therefore, he could be a logical head of a new government.

In simple terms, Mr Seguin thinks Maastricht gives too much away to the 'technocrats' of Brussels, and was negotiated before the full effects of the upheavals in east Europe could be appreciated. He wants a new, simpler agreement with emphasis on environmental control, no monetary union and a programme of integration to bring the former Communist world into partnership with the rest of Europe.

Another anti-treaty figure is Jacques Calvet, the chief executive of Peugeot. But Mr Calvet, 61, is not just the head of a highly successful car firm. In the 1970s, he was an adviser to President Giscard d'Estaing and he is fully at ease in the corridors of power. His objections, similar to those of Mr Seguin, include a belief that Maastricht will bestow 'a naive ultra-liberalism' which he describes as 'a blind ideology without nuances' and the result of 'Anglo- Saxon influence'.

A third important figure is Philippe de Villiers, a 43-year-old viscount who has broken ranks with Mr Giscard d'Estaing's Union for French Democracy (UDF). A traditionalist Catholic, he believes that Europe should be widened immediately to include east and central Europe. His appeal, however, goes beyond Maastricht. An anti-abortion campaigner, he is believed to have picked up much support among the Catholic middle class. His right-wing stance is considered likely to attract voters who sympathise with some of the theses of the National Front but are reluctant to support a movement with fascist connotations.

The Maastricht debate has also had its waverers. Perhaps the most surprising was Jean-Francois Deniau, 63, whose name is a byword for political moderation and personal courage. In the 1980s, as an opposition UDF deputy, he distinguished himself by visiting the world's hotspots and then reporting back to parliament. In the 1950s he led the French delegation negotiating the creation of the EC. So he has a deep knowledge of the Community's beginnings.

Last month he said that he could 'not recommend a 'yes'.' Criticising the inability to end the Yugoslav cnflict and EC decision-making by unanimity or qualified majority, he argued that talk of chaos if the French reject Maastricht was 'indecent' and alarmist.

Mr Deniau was invited this week to meet Roland Dumas, the Socialist Foreign Minister. After the meeting, Mr Deniau said he had changed his mind.

Mr Deniau, who is in poor physical health, is probably near the end of his political career. But the other promiment Maastricht-doubters are in their prime. French politics have been dominated since 1974 by three men, Mr Mitterrand, Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Chirac. As Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the Socialist anti-Maastricht dissident, said during the campaign, the treaty debate has had the merit of bringing forward a new generation of potential leaders. The coming weeks will put them to the test.