FRANCE: After French rejection of the EU constitution, Chirac speaks to the nation
Karin Palmquist

May 31, 2005

It came as no surprise, but for French President Jacques Chirac it was a huge blow nonetheless: On March 29, French voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed new European Union constitution with a 55 percent majority.

The constitution is intended to create a uniform legal framework that would give broad power to the European central government. It was worries on how a more centralized European government would affect job security, immigration and the question of national identity that had the French turn the constitution down. All 25 European Union member states must approve the constitution before it can take effect. So far, nine countries have voted in favor of the constitution; Germany approved the constitution just a few days before the French ‘no.’ EU officials refused to comment on whether the treaty was dead after the French defeat, but acknowledged that the defeat was a “serious problem.”

Two days after the referendum, Chirac replaced his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, with Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, one of France’s most outspoken critics of the Iraq war. On June 1, the Dutch go to the poll. Observers worry they may follow France’s example.

Speaking from Palais de l’ Elysée on May 29, Chirac said: “You have rejected the European Constitution by a majority. It is your sovereign decision. I take note of it.

“However our interests and obligations are profoundly linked to Europe. France, founder-member of the European Union naturally remains in the Union. I want to tell you, our European partners and all the people of Europe that France will continue to hold its position in the Union, with regard to its commitments. I will ensure that.

“Some processes of ratification are underway in the countries of the European Union. Nine countries have already voted yes. Our other partners will each deliver their vote in turn. Until then the European Union will continue to function on the basis of the present treaties.

“We have before us some important commitments. The European Council will meet in Brussels on 16th June. I will defend the position of our country while taking into account the message of the French public.

“But do not be mistaken in that the decision of the French has inevitably created a difficult situation for defending our interests in Europe. We will have to respond to it by uniting ourselves around an exigency of national interest.

“In the course of this debate, you have also expressed your anxieties and expectations. I intend to respond to these by giving a fresh and strong boost to government action. I will share with you my decisions concerning the government and its priorities of action in the coming days.”