- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

BRUSSELS — The president of the European Commission delivered a scathing attack yesterday on the ruling elites in France for allowing public opinion there to turn against the proposed European Union constitution.

Speaking on the eve of a summit of EU heads of state and government, a visibly upset Jose Manuel Barroso demanded the political leaders of France “do their job” and “make an effort to explain the constitution” to French voters, who are turning against the treaty.

Mr. Barroso said it was not the commission’s fault if the debate on the French referendum — due in 10 weeks — had been sidetracked by issues such as the distant prospect of Turkey joining the European Union.

“If there is confusion in French public opinion, it is not our fault,” Mr. Barroso said.

He said he would not allow planned economic reforms to be held hostage by French public opinion, noting acidly that France was not the only country that had to win a referendum on the constitution.

“We are not only having a French referendum, there is going to be a Dutch referendum, a Danish referendum, and next year, one in England,” said Mr. Barroso, a former center-right Portuguese prime minister and pro-business reformer.

“The French public has its concerns, but at the same time, there are other states in the EU,” he said.

Mr. Barroso was speaking as a second public opinion survey, in the French newspaper Le Figaro, confirmed the results of a poll that sent shock waves through Paris on Friday when it showed a collapse in support for the draft constitution.

In both polls, a narrow majority of French voters said they would vote “no.”

Much of that collapse is tied to a debate in France about an obscure piece of EU legislation, which proposes slashing the red tape if service providers such as architects move from one EU country to another.

The “services directive” has become a symbol of French fears that Europe is under the control of an “Anglo-Saxon” cabal, determined to impose Thatcherite employment laws across the European Union and destroy the cozy French system of lavish benefits and worker protections.

President Jacques Chirac, as leader of the “yes” camp, has said he believes the directive is “unacceptable,” and told Mr. Barroso to “silence” members of his commission pushing for economic liberalization.

Mr. Barroso’s harsh words caused immediate alarm among pro-European politicians in Brussels, where a French “no” vote is widely seen as threatening a fatal blow to the fledgling European constitution.

Chris Davies, the leader of the British Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said Mr. Barroso’s defense of the commission was factually correct, but politically wrong-headed.

“I agree entirely with what Barroso just said, but if he loses the constitution treaty in the process, he won’t have done any of us any favors,” he said.

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