Prodi warns on French ‘no’ to EU constitution

A French rejection of the European Union's constitutional treaty would result in the “fall of Europe,” Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission, warned on Sunday.

His words came as the Yes campaign stepped up its increasingly desperate search for a strategy to turn the tide of public opinion ahead of the May 29 vote. In the starkest warning yet of the consequences for the EU if French voters reject the treaty Mr Prodi who was in office when it was drawn up told a French newspaper: “There would be no more Europe. We will pass through a long period of crisis.

“The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.”

Mr Prodi said the treaty was not perfect but was the best compromise possible. “It is impossible for me to imagine a French No. I have always thought of France as a pillar of Europe.

“A No would be catastrophic for Europe, from a social and economic point of view, not only political. And that is the whole contradiction: everybody knows very well that there is no Europe without France, yet France does not realise the chance it has with Europe. She should reflect on that because an isolated France would be very weak,” he said.

Meanwhile it emerged that the former socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin is to enter the fray in an attempt to sway leftwing critics of the constitution.

But, with the No campaign covering the political spectrum, his intervention which could further alienate right-wing opponents highlights the dilemma facing the political establishment as it attempts to find a winning message that will resonate with both left and right. The treaty, which must be approved by all 25 member states before it comes into force, establishes new rules for the expanded union as well as strengthening collective action in economic, social and foreign policy.

However, the latest opinion polls in France suggest the No camp is consolidating its lead with 58 per cent support. They also suggest that a growing number of French voters are playing down the fallout from a No vote.

Mr Jospin, who remains popular in the opposition Socialist Party despite his failed presidential bid in April 2002, will appeal for a Yes vote in a TV interview on Thursday. Pro-treaty campaigners hope he can help heal a split Socialist party and win back leftwing voters, disaffected with the EU's “liberal” drift.

However, Pierre Giacometti, general director of French polling organisation Ipsos, said the Yes camp faced a strategic dilemma because of its need to straddle both left and right.

Mr Giacometti said that the Yes camp needed to devise a more positive message. “They are knocking the other's product but they are not selling their own. They have to sell the Yes differently,” he said.

In a speech to supporters of the ruling UMP party on Saturday, Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP president and the rightwing flagbearer for the Yes campaign, said that the adoption of the constitutional treaty would increase France's voting power in Europe.

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