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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Chirac's EU pitch falls flat
By Allan Little
BBC News, Paris

French President Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac has warned against Anglo-Saxon principles
The morning newspapers have not been kind about the French president's performance.

Jacques Chirac appeared before an audience of 80 young people to launch his campaign for a Yes vote in the country's referendum on the EU constitution.

It was hosted not by heavyweight political interrogators, but by celebrities from the world of entertainment.

Even so, the front page headline of the daily Le Parisien read: "Chirac Struggles".

The broadcast, according to the paper, was confused, chaotic and very disappointing.

'Missed opportunity'

Le Figaro agrees. Mr Chirac stuck to tried and tested themes, it says, all of which have been heard before - that Europe needs to be strong and organised if it is to stand up with social and humane values in a world dominated by Anglo-Saxon style free-market economics and open markets.

The head of state often struggled to get his pro-European case across
Le Figaro

The paper said the broadcast was a "missed opportunity" that would do nothing to reverse the lead that the No campaign had built up.

Liberation accuses Mr Chirac of addressing the people of France like an avuncular schoolmaster addressing the children in his schoolroom.

It says he told the French people, in effect, not to worry about these matters and to leave it up to his wise judgement.

Mr Chirac's performance was a make or break attempt to appeal directly to the people over the heads of a pro-constitution, but increasingly distrusted, political elite.

Elite astonished

Asked if he would resign if he lost the vote he said, emphatically, "No."

He said France should be proud of the European achievement. And he warned that a No vote would be disastrous.

French President Jacques Chirac is questioned by young people
Negative reaction will boost the No campaign

It would destroy French influence at the heart of Europe, and turn France into the black sheep of the European family.

France's political elite of left and right are astonished that the No campaign has stolen so clear a lead.

Opinion polls give them between 51% and 55% of the vote.

'Don't punish me'

Many say they fear that the new Europe is too Anglo-Saxon in its fondness for free markets and open competition, that it threatens the French social model.

Our Anglo-Saxon partners, President Chirac said, think the opposite. They think that it is too interventionist, too controlling.

And he appealed to the French not to use the referendum just to punish the incumbent government.

We face a question fundamental to the future of our continent, he said - do not muddle it up with passing day-to-day political concerns.

But the confidence of the No campaign is likely to be buoyed by the press coverage.

Mr Chirac and the Yes lobby will have to place their faith in the large number of French people who say they have not made up their minds.

The Yes vote is likely to be "softer" than the No vote - which means the higher the turnout, the more likely Mr Chirac is to pull off a victory against the opinion poll predictions.

See how Chirac performed in the debate

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