Toulouse students say treaty is 'not a real constitution'

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All say that they feel themselves vaguely to be Europeans, not just French. All are students in engineering at a prestigious institute in Toulouse - a booming, cosmopolitan city, heavily dependent on trade with Spain and Italy, and the European Airbus.

Two will vote against the European Union constitution on Sunday. One is torn between support for the idea of a united Europe and hatred of the language in the text. The fourth will vote "yes", but with a heavy heart.

Alexandre, Sylvain, Baptiste and Nicolas, aged 19 or 20, are members of an informal debating club at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (INSA) in the suburbs of Toulouse. They have agreed to meet me to explain why - against all expectations and past voting patterns - young people in France, aged 18-25, plan to vote crushingly against the EU treaty.

For the fifth stage of The Independent's pre-referendum Tour de France, we have driven from the Rhône estuary, across the plain of Languedoc, and through the Pyrenean foothills of Roussillon to the great - and youthful - city of Toulouse.

The "pink city", named after the colour of the stone of its many beautiful buildings, has 400,000 people, of whom 100,000 are students from all over France, Europe and the world. Toulouse is a thriving, confident place that has gained enormously from EU open borders.

According to the small-print of the opinion polls, Toulouse, and the south- west, are more pro-"oui" than the south, or the north or the east of France. Not so, the students of Toulouse, according to Alexandre, Nicolas, Baptiste and Sylvain. The mood among their friends - mostly future engineers, not head-in-the-clouds arts or philosophy students - is heavily pro-"non". All say they are not anti-European but find the proposed constitutional treaty "undemocratic", "not a real constitution" and - the killer word in the France of 2005 - "too liberal" (too favourable to open markets and free trade).

Sylvain Girssner - long hair, black sweat-shirt and dark glasses, a definite "non" - said: "I have been shocked by some of the language in the treaty. Money, free trade, profits and unrestricted competition are the only values ... This treaty simply does not represent my view of the world."

Alexandre Larribeau, short-haired, blue-shirt, a half-Spanish Parisian, and another definite "non" said: "OK, most of the language about free markets and competition has been in all the previous European treaties. But no one asked us about the previous treaties ... We are looking at the language now for the first time and seeing what the EU is all about and we don't like it. And we don't like the idea that this constitution could freeze things like that for 80 years."

All are in favour of some form of European Union, maybe even more federalist than the present EU. Asked what their "alternative Europe" would do, if it did not promote trade, they say: "A much more ambitious, common environment policy, Europe-wide harmonisation of social guarantees and a better deal for the developing world."

This is not the selfish, nationalist, left of most French trades unions, terrified of an invasion of Polish plumbers. It is not the workerist left of the Communists or the miserabalist-ideological extreme left.

It is a more humanist, softer, vaguely anarchist, pro-Third World left, influenced heavily by the anti-globalist movement. It is reminiscent of the idealist-hedonist left of my own student days in the early 1970s.

Baptiste Dulau from Pau in the Pyrenees - red T-shirt, short-hair with tiny plait, undecided between "oui and "non" - said: "I don't accept that free trade and the profit motive should be at the heart of society. Why not base our life on more human values? Why should companies not be motivated by the desire tohelp people, not always ... more profits?"

Only Nicolas Bataille, short-dark hair and glasses, from Toulouse (a probable "oui") defends the need to make free trade at least part of the European project. "Unless there was money to motivate them, you would never get the politicians and businessmen to be interested in Europe at all."

Sylvain and Alexandre believe that a "non" could be the start of a Europe-wide surge of enthusiasm for a more "social" and less capitalist Europe. Baptiste and Nicolas fear that a French rejection may torpedo the whole European project, good and bad.

Tomorrow: Normandy

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