'Yes' and 'No' both have it in French polling

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Two new opinion polls on France's Maastricht referendum give widely differing findings, bringing comfort to both supporters and opponents of the treaty. With 10 days before voting, they confirm only the unpredictability of the outcome.

A daily poll by the CSA institute for the daily Le Parisien showed a drop in support for ratifying the European Union treaty to 53 per cent yesterday from 54 per cent on Monday. However, a Louis Harris poll carried out for the weekly VSD gave an unusually high 59 per cent to the 'yes' campaign.

But a staggering 39 per cent of those questioned said they had not made up their minds or would abstain: 30 per cent of the respondents in the Le Parisien poll said they were still undecided.

Since polls briefly put the 'No' votes ahead two weeks ago, there has been a plethora of results which will be brought to an end this coming weekend. Publication of polls is prohibited in the last week of the campaign before the vote on 20 September.

Private polls commissioned by banks and other institutions and, more important, the soundings which are carried out by the police Renseignements Generaux for the government will continue. The police have a reputation for extremely accurate polling in the most volatile situations.

The official campaign got under way this week with the first television spots broadcast by the main political parties. The most curious was undoubtedly a performance by the Gaullist RPR. It was divided between 'yes' and 'No' campaigners, giving quite contradictory arguments illustrating the division in the party.

The Gaullist opposition is led by Philippe Seguin and Charles Pasqua, both ministers in the 1986-88 government of Jacques Chirac, who supports the treaty. A reminder that some of the Gaullist heavyweights who were close to Charles de Gaulle oppose Maastricht came this week when Michel Debre urged a 'No' vote in Le Figaro to give 'a lesson to the 'technocrats' in Brussels'.

French opponents of Maastricht, from across the political spectrum, pepper their speeches with references to 'technocrats', a catch-all for bureaucrats who take decisions without reference to democratic institutions.

Other senior Gaullists opposed to Maastricht are Maurice Couve de Murville, the general's other surviving prime minister, and Pierre Messmer, who was prime minister under the late president Georges Pompidou. Another Gaullist proponent of rejection is Maurice Schumann, a former minister and de Gaulle's spokesman in London during the Second World War. Mr Seguin himself, while at 49 not of that generation, cut his political teeth as a member of Pompidou's staff in the 1970s.

Although the result is too close to call, government officials seem more relaxed since President Francois Mitterrand appeared on television for three hours of debate last Thursday. The quietly confident performance of the President, who will be 76 next month, is credited with much of the upturn in the fortunes of the campaign for a 'yes' vote.

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