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Cablegate: France's Referendum On Eu Constitution: 'No' Wins

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 003722

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD, DRL/IL, INR/EUC AND
EB
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR PINR SOCI ECON
SUBJECT: FRANCE'S REFERENDUM ON EU CONSTITUTION: 'NO' WINS
IN DECISIVE REJECTION OF ESTABLISHMENT

SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU) In a stinging defeat for President Chirac and the
entire French establishment -- its political class and
business, media and cultural elites -- French voters
massively voted 'no' in the May 29 referendum on the proposed
constitution for the EU. President Chirac, in a terse
statement on national television, acknowledged the setback,
and promised a "new impetus" for his administration. As
expected, voter turn-out was high (seventy percent of
registered voters), with 55 percent voting 'no.' Fear of
unemployment and of social and economic dislocation stemming
from globalization and an expanded Europe helped drive the
populist tide of 'no.' The decision to reject the proposed
constitution breaks the momentum of constructing the more
united, "political" Europe advocated by all of the
constitution's mainstream, center-left and center-right
supporters. Domestically, the referendum served as a
convenient vehicle for economic and social protest, and
highlighted what is termed here a growing "social fracture."
(We will address domestic implications of the vote septel).
END SUMMARY.

THE RESULTS
-----------
2. (SBU) French voters massively voted 'no' -- 55 percent of
a high 70 percent turn-out -- in France's May 29 referendum
on the proposed constitution for the EU. The voting pattern
conformed to the fracture line dividing cities with strong
economies that benefit from EU expansion and globalization
(for example, Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, and Toulouse voted
'yes') from cities with higher unemployment, often also beset
by ethnic tensions due to immigration or industrial decline
(for example, Marseille, Nice, Lille and Reims voted 'no').
In addition, the voting pattern highlighted the divide
between individuals who fear for their employment and
economic security and those with the confidence, skills and
financial cushion to adapt successfully to changing
circumstances. The populist tide of 'no' -- for all its
variety of political orientation -- overwhelmingly consisted
of workers, salaried employees, shopkeepers, artisans and
rural folk. Paris' posh seventh district, like the French
expatriate community in the Washington DC area, voted over 80
percent 'yes.' As Francois Rebsamen, mayor of Dijon and
architect of the Socialist Party's (PS) losing, 'yes'
campaign grimly assessed his party's loss among its own
electorate, "Something's happening out there -- every popular
segment of society voted 'no.'"

THE FRANCE OF 'NO' AND THE FRANCE OF 'YES'
--------------------------------------
3. (SBU) The profiles of the 'yes' and 'no' electorates
reflects basic political, economic, and social dichotomies:
right/left (76 percent of right and right-leaning voters
voted 'yes,' 67 percent of left and left-leaning voters voted
'no'); richer/poorer and employment secure/insecure; and
metropolitan/provincial and state independent/dependent. The
different experience of the factors driving this societal
divide (unemployment, diminished purchasing power,
outsourcing and globalization, immigration, dependency on
public health and education services, etc.) was projected
onto the proposed constitution. The high voter turn-out and
decisive dimension of the 'no' victory stemmed from the way
the referendum provided many the opportunity to express their
discontent over living on the wrong side of this divide.
Breaking the momentum of the European construction was not a
key motive of the majority of French 'no' voters.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC'S REACTION
---------------------------
4. (SBU) Within an hour of the closing of the polls -- in
what many observers agreed seemed a mechanical, even hollow,
performance -- President Chirac read a terse statement on
national television. Struggling to set the stage for
regaining the initiative and to play the above-the-fray role
that the French constitution envisions for the Chief
Executive, Chirac said he had "taken into account" the French
people's "democratically expressed" decision. Chirac tried
to put a business-as-usual spin on voters' crumpling
dismissal of his leadership and his ten-year record in
office. He stressed how France would continue to meet its
responsibilities in Europe, and how, in coming days, he would
give details of a "new impetus" for administration policy.
Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin emerged from the
welter of instant analysis that followed announcement of
results as a leading candidate to replace Jean-Pierre
Raffarin as Prime Minister. Villepin has never been elected
to public office and does not have a network of allies in
parliament. Even so, the greatest drawback for Chirac and
the party he founded (the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP))
of a Villepin government is that Villepin and UMP party
president Nicolas Sarkozy are regularly at loggerheads.
Their temperaments differ, as do the underpinnings of their
outlooks for domestic policy, Villepin hewing to a more
traditional, Gaullist statism and nationalism even as Sarkozy
signals ever more overtly his "liberal," i.e. free market,
policy preferences.

SARKOZY'S "LIBERAL" DESTINY
---------------------------
5. (SBU) In remarks delivered at UMP headquarters soon after
polls closed and referendum results were announced, Sarkozy
skillfully, determinedly straddled both sides of the fence.
On the one hand, he firmly called on the party and the
party's electorate to remain united and support the
president. On the other hand, he called for a "fundamental
rethinking" of the government's social and economic policy
even if that implied a major shift that called into question
France's social model. If offered the premiership (a job he
believes should have been offered him from the very beginning
of Chirac's second term in 2002), Sarkozy could not lightly
refuse. However, the referendum's resounding 'no' was a
massive, popular rejection of the "liberal," in preference
for the "social." Undertaking a market-oriented, reform
agenda in open defiance of a popular opposition flush with
victory is hardly a recipe for political success, even for a
politician as talented and confident as Sarkozy.

THE CROWING OF THE VICTORS
--------------------------
6. (SBU) The extreme-right, National Front's (FN) Jean-Marie
le Pen projected himself as, again, "challenging" Chirac for
the presidency of France. Le Pen called Chirac a "worthy
adversary, who would be easy to beat" in 2007. (In the
second round run-off to the 2002 presidential election le Pen
lost to Chirac by 82 percent of the vote). Phillipe de
Villiers, the die-hard, far-right sovereignist, whose
enthusiastic supporters dubbed "chief of the 'no's,'" called
for President Chirac to resign and for dissolution of the
National Assembly. The Communist Party's (PC) Marie-George
Buffet, along with the leaders of the raft of far-left
activist groups that were key to the 'no' campaign's
grassroots effectiveness, all called for unity of the people
in view of renegotiation of a new, "social" version
constitutional treaty for the European Union.

THE PS -- TORN BETWEEN RECRIMINATION AND ELECTORAL CLOUT
--------------------------------------------- -----------
6. (SBU) The leaders of France's deeply split Socialist
Party (PS) -- of both its 'yes' and 'no' camps -- were all
careful to insist, through gritted teeth or masks of
magnanimity, that the important thing was "unification of the
people of the left." Fifty-six percent of the large,
socialist-sympathizing electorate voted 'no.' Had it not
been for the leaders of the PS's 'no' camp -- in particular,
former prime minister Laurent Fabius, who broke with the
party's democratically reached decision to support the
proposed constitution and went on to legitimate voting 'no'
among center left voters -- 'no' would not have won. Party
National Secretary Francois Hollande, who waged a
hard-fought, ultimately futile campaign, will not easily cede
the party leadership, but he may be irreparably damaged. A
struggle for the party may be shaping up between former Prime
Minister Jospin, representing the PS establishment, and
Fabius. Fabius' intuition about the depth of disaffection
among the left's modest income electorate, and his
willingness to hitch the wagon of his political future to his
hunch make him the big winner on the left for now. However,
it is unclear if he will be able to transform this into
support for a bid for the presidency in 2007. The PS's need
to remain united in order to have any chance of uniting the
left-leaning electorate and alternating in power with the
center right should outweigh even the deep ideological
divisions ("reformist" 'yes' versus "socialist" 'no') and
bitter personal divisions that now divide the party's
leadership.
WOLFF

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