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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
France plans EU constitution poll
President Jacques Chirac
President Chirac made the announcement on Bastille Day
President Jacques Chirac says France will hold a referendum next year on the European Union constitution.

The new constitution agreed by 25 EU leaders last month must win approval in each member state either by a vote in parliament or by public referendum.

Mr Chirac made the announcement during a Bastille Day television interview.

Other countries to have said they will hold a referendum are the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Luxembourg, Spain, the Czech Republic and Denmark.

Others have decided to hold a vote in parliament while some are still undecided.

The EU constitution sets out the powers of the national governments of the member states and the EU's various institutions as well as including a charter of fundamental rights.

Mr Chirac said he thought his traditional Bastille Day interview was a good occasion to announce the referendum.

EU countries holding referendums
Czech Republic
Denmark
France
Ireland
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Spain
Portugal
United Kingdom

"The French people are directly concerned and will therefore be directly consulted," he said.

"And so there will be a referendum, which is likely to be held next year, at the end of all of the procedures, notably the possible revision of the constitution to adapt our constitution to the main obligations of the constitutional treaty."

He said the referendum would be held in the second half of 2005.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the French president's enthusiasm for such a move had been limited, but he has come under pressure from his UMP party.

France had initially said it might ratify the European constitution by a vote in parliament.

EU foreign ministers have agreed that the constitution will be signed in Rome on 29 October in the same room where the original treaties which founded the EU were signed almost 50 years ago - in the Campidoglio Palace.

The EU has grown from six countries who signed the Treaty of Rome to 25 member states, 10 of which joined this year.

Protest vote

Although opinion polls have suggested a majority of the French public support an EU constitution our correspondent says holding a referendum could still be a risky move.

She says European enlargement has not been universally popular in France, with some people fearing an added strain on the EU budget, as well as diminishing French influence in Europe.

A referendum could also turn into yet another protest vote against Mr Chirac's government, which is seen as having failed to tackle high unemployment and the growing divides within French society, she says.

Mr Chirac promised to listen more closely to the French people.

In his Bastille Day interview, he also called for vigilance and action against racism in France - be it against French Jews, Muslims or Christians - and he said there would be harsh punishment for those committing racist attacks.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Allan Little
"This is full of risk for President Chirac"




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