- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

From combined dispatches

PARIS — Two opinion polls released yesterday indicated that a majority of French voters will approve the European Union’s constitution in a May 29 referendum, giving a much-needed boost to the country’s “yes” campaigners.

Fifty-three percent of decided voters will say yes in the referendum, up five percentage points from the last Ipsos poll, according to the survey by the Ipsos polling institute for Le Figaro newspaper and Europe 1 radio.

A CSA poll conducted for Le Parisien newspaper gauged the “yes” camp at 51 percent.

The polls were the second and third to suggest that French voters would approve the treaty, aimed at simplifying decision-making in the expanded European Union, after a string of surveys had indicated a victory for the “no” camp.

On Saturday, a TNS-Sofres-Unilog poll put support for the EU constitution among decided voters at 52 percent, but nearly a quarter of the 1,000 respondents said they had not made up their minds.

Two other polls released yesterday by the BVA and Louis Harris institutes suggested that treaty opponents would prevail with either 51 percent or 52 percent of the vote, but both also showed the “no” camp losing ground.

All 25 EU member states must approve the constitutional treaty, either by popular referendum or parliamentary vote.

If such a heavyweight EU member as France rejects the constitution, many observers say, the treaty will be stopped in its tracks.

The French government has stepped up its campaign in recent weeks. President Jacques Chirac’s first foray into the campaign last month was a disappointment, but he is to speak on television again today.

Pollsters say many voters unhappy about the government’s unemployment record and its cost-cutting economic reforms aim to punish the government by rejecting the constitution.

After large protests in recent weeks, unions have vowed to strike again on Pentecost Monday — two weeks ahead of the EU vote — to demonstrate against government plans to scrap the public holiday to generate more tax revenues for health care.

Yesterday, Mr. Chirac turned to popular culture to promote the EU constitution.

Keen to protect the French-language film industry against the Hollywood juggernaut, France has long argued for a “cultural exception” — that cultural goods such as cinema could not be treated like other merchandise.

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