Fear and loathing on the Maastricht trail: The Balkans impasse and economic fall-out from Germany are mocking appeals to European unity. Andrew Marshall explains why the French are saying 'non'

EXPLAIN and convince: that was the task Francois Mitterrand set himself last week as the President of the French Republic pitched himself into the battle over the Maastricht treaty, which is to be the subject of a referendum on 20 September. It is a tough task.

For the benefit of French voters, a remarkable debate is being held across the country. But it is illuminated, like a slide-show lecture, by images from across the continent of conflict and economic instability. Europe is hovering on the brink of a dozen crises.

The French 'yes' campaign is trying to capitalise on what has always been seen as the European Community's strength: its ability to deliver peace and prosperity. When Mr Mitterrand met Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, last week, they sought to show how vital Maastricht is for security. 'The European Community is the best chance we have of sheltering all our members from war,' the President said.

But flickering pictures of artillery bombardments tearing apart Sarajevo undercut that. To the dismay of the French government, the role of the EC in stopping the killing in the former Yugoslavia has been ramshackle.

'The Maastricht treaty is the contractual base that will enable us to build a solid European roof,' Mr Kohl said. 'When we see the images of terror from Yugoslavia, we must understand that our only future is with Europe.' But the opposite case has been put by the 'no' campaigners, who argue that the EC is not the right framework.

The enduring triumph of European integration since the Second World War has been France's rapprochement with Germany. Now the Germans and the French are tied together: their economies, their societies and their politicians. This was the image presented last week, when Mr Kohl and Mr Mitterrand went for a walk on the beach on Borkum Island, swept by the winds of the North Sea. It is the reason why Mr Mitterrand wants Mr Kohl to participate in a debate on French television.

But Germany's economic problems, which brought the European Monetary System to the point of crisis last week, are probably more prominent in most people's minds than the triumph of Franco-German co-existence.

In the EC, prosperity is supposed to be the other side of the coin to peace. But again, it is hard to square the rhetoric of the campaign with the reality. Unemployment is soaring in France and reached record levels in June, nearly 3 million.

With these arguments so ambivalent, the 'yes' campaign's rhetoric looks empty to many voters. Laurent Fabius, a leading Socialist, said last week: 'If the 'yes' wins, Europe will progress. If the 'no' wins, Europe will fall back.' That, however, was the spur Danish politicians used in their ill-fated referendum. It failed; and the Danish people were suprised to discover, the day after they rejected Maastricht, that the sky did not fall.

Something similar may be happening in France. One opinion poll found that more than half of those questioned said the Europe of Maastricht made them fear the future, that they were unhappy about the 'defence of people's interests' and believed most French people would suffer as a result of the treaty. And, as in Denmark, the 'no' campaign is making clear it is not opposed to Europe, merely to the treaty. Philippe Seguin, a leading opponent of Maastricht, said the 'no' campaigners 'are not hostile to the construction of Europe, but are hostile towards a technocratic Europe which casts doubt on some areas of French sovereignty'.

History has been drafted into the campaign. The European Parliament's Socialist group has printed postcards showing French figures who they say 'would vote yes'. 'After the disappearance of my system,' wrote Napoleon, 'I don't think it will be possible to have a well-balanced Europe which is not the agglomeration and confederation of great peoples.'

'Europe is not just the future, it's an old French tradition,' the Socialists said. But the images on television, on the streets, in the newspapers seem to hint that Europe is not even the future.

Fear, money, peace, history; they will all be used as weapons in the debate. But the blunt truth is that the French have yet to be convinced. Opinion polls show the 'yes' and 'no' vote evenly balanced; they also show the number of those intending to abstain, or who do not know which way they will vote, at around 40 per cent.

'We had to make Europe something everyone, not only politicians and specialists, talked about,' Mr Mitterrand said last week. 'It is important to make something out of Europe that is dear to people's hearts.' In the Fifties, the heyday of European integration as a popular movement, French and German students organised demonstrations of solidarity. The reality now is that France is inextricably tied in to the rest of Europe; but love will not keep Europe together, and it is starting to look as if fear may tear it apart.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game