French referendum on the European Constitution

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National referenda on the
European Constitution
Czech Republic Cancelled
Denmark Postponed
France No No (55% of 69%)
Ireland Date not set
Luxembourg Yes Yes (57% of 88%)
Netherlands No No (62% of 63%)
Poland Postponed
Portugal Postponed
Spain Yes Yes (77% of 42%)
United Kingdom   Postponed
Parliamentary approvals

On 29 May 2005 a referendum was held in France to decide whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. The result was a victory for the "No" campaign, with 55 per cent of voters rejecting the treaty on a turnout of 69 per cent.

The question put to voters was:

Approuvez-vous le projet de loi qui autorise la ratification du traité établissant une Constitution pour l'Europe?
"Do you approve the bill authorising the ratification of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe?"

France was the first country to reject the Constitution, and the second country to go to the polls in a referendum on ratification, after a Spanish referendum approved the treaty by a wide margin in February 2005. France's rejection of the Constitution left the treaty with an uncertain future, with other EU member states pledging to continue with their own arrangements for ratification.



The text of the European Constitution, as distributed to each French voter
The text of the European Constitution, as distributed to each French voter
Jacques Chirac giving a speech to the French people to vote Yes to the European Constitution.
Jacques Chirac giving a speech to the French people to vote Yes to the European Constitution.

President Jacques Chirac's decision to hold a referendum was thought to have been influenced in part by the surprise announcement that the United Kingdom was to hold a vote of its own. Although the adoption of a Constitution had initially been played down as a 'tidying-up' exercise with no need for a popular vote, as increasing numbers of EU member states announced their intention to hold a referendum, the French government came under increasing pressure to follow suit.

The date was announced on 4 March 2005. Opinion polling had shown the "Yes" and "No" campaigns in the lead at various times, but in the weeks leading up the referendum the "No" campaign consistently held the lead. This led many, even some on the "Yes" side, to predict openly that France would reject the Constitution. [1]

Socialist Party vote on stance

On 1 December 2004, the opposition Socialist Party held a vote among its members to determine the stance it would take. The issue of the Constitution had caused considerable divisions within the party, with many members—although broadly in favour of European integration—opposing the Constitution for reasons including a perceived lack of democratic accountability, and the threat they considered it posed to the European social model. The "Yes" side was led by party leader François Hollande while the "No" side was led by deputy leader Laurent Fabius. Out of 127,027 members eligible to vote, 59 per cent voted "Yes", with a turnout of 79 per cent. Out of 102 Socialist Party regional federations, 26 voted "No".

Amendment to the French Constitution

The Constitutional Council of France ruled that the European Constitution could not legally coexist with the current Constitution of France. For that reason, a vote was taken to amend the Constitution of France in order to make the two documents compatible.

This amendment passed in an extraordinary joint session of deputies and senators at the Palace of Versailles on 28 February 2005, with 730 votes in favour and 66 votes against, with 96 abstentions. Both the ruling party and the Socialists supported the constitutional amendment. Communist Party members were the only ones to vote against it. [2]

Opinion polls and course of the campaign

Initial opinion polls showed a clear majority in favour of the Constitution, but public opposition grew over time. By May, the "Yes" campaign's lead was smaller than the opinion pollsters' margin of error.

The three major political forces in France (UMP, PS and UDF) supported the proposed Constitution, as did President Chirac. Supporters of the Constitution from the left sought to emphasise that the treaty incorporates a Charter of Fundamental Rights and thus helped to secure the future of the European social model. Somewhat surprisingly considering his usual political orientation, Jacques Chirac defended it as a possible barrier against neoliberal economic policies.

Objections to the Constitution in France can be broadly divided into two camps. On the left, many expressed the view that the Constitution would enforce a neoliberal economic model. Among those were some members of the Socialist Party who dissented from the party's stance as decided by its internal referendum, some members of the Green Party (though the party's official policy was also to support ratification), the Communist Party and other parties of the hard left, such as the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League and Workers' Struggle, as well as associations like ATTAC and trade unions such as the CGT or SUD. These critics sought to link the Constitution to the proposed directive on services in the internal market, which is widely opposed in France.

There were also prominent opponents of the Constitution from the right, notably Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (a Gaullist) and Philippe de Villiers (of the Movement for France), and from the extreme right, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front, who opposed the Constitution on the grounds that France should not be part of any institution whose decisions can take precedence over what is decided in France at a national level. Another factor in the defeat of the Constitution may have been the linking of the Constitution in the minds of voters with the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, with which most of the French population disagrees.


Ballots for the referendum.
Ballots for the referendum.
Provisional results:
Votes cast 28,985,293 69.34%
Abstentions 12,814,573 30.66%
Electorate 41,799,866
Of votes cast:
Votes expressing a view 28,256,673 97.49%
Blank or invalid votes 728,620 2.51%
Total votes 28,985,293
Of Yes and No votes:
Yes 12,806,394 45.32%
No 15,450,279 54.68%
Total 28,256,673

Most of the départements had a majority of "No" votes. In Bretagne and Pays-de-la-Loire almost all departments had a majority in favour of ratification, as well in Bas-Rhin, parts of the Île-de-France, Haute-Savoie, Rhône and the DOMs of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. The département with the most votes in favour was Martinique, with a 69 per cent "Yes" vote. In metropolitan France, it was Paris, where 66% of votes were "yes".


The possible consequences of a "No" vote were highly debated in France before the referendum, and are now a matter of keen speculation across Europe. Proponents of the Constitution, including President Chirac, have claimed that France's standing in Europe has been considerably weakened.

Pro-EU campaigners for a "No" vote (as opposed to those opposing the EU altogether) argue that the Constitution will be renegotiated. "No" vote campaigners, particularly the prominent socialist Laurent Fabius, have labelled this option Plan B - Some journalists have suspected that this stands for Plan Britannique (Plan British) or Plan Blair. Campaigners for a "Yes" vote have stated that there is no such Plan B and that the 'European project' could be brought to a standstill for at least ten years.

The challenge of renegotiation is made all the greater by the diversity of reasons for the rejection of the treaty, ranging from the far left who saw the Constitution as a "capitalists' charter", to the far right who opposed it on nationalistic grounds. Laurent Fabius has said that if his proposals for changes to the treaty were to be taken into account, he would support a future "Yes" campaign in a new referendum.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has been quickly replaced by Dominique de Villepin. UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy also comes back as Minister of the Interior. The candidacy of Jacques Chirac for the French Presidential Election of 2007 is now less likely.

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