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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Bloggers take on European elites
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News website

Etienne Chouard's e-manifesto against the treaty
Etienne Chouard's manifesto drew record numbers of hits

The French newspaper dubbed Marseille law teacher Etienne Chouard "Don Quichotte du non".

Mr Chouard did not much care for the EU Constitution, but instead of simply voicing his upset to his neighbours, he wrote an essay and set up a blog to explain why he was voting 'Non'.

Just ahead of the vote, his blog was getting 25,000 hits a day and his anti-constitution broadside had been photocopied, faxed and blogged about across France.

Despite overwhelming support for the constitution by the governments of both France and the Netherlands and a huge media campaign by political leaders in both countries, voters have rejected the constitution.

And just as the media and political establishment in the US found during last year's presidential election, European elites have now felt the sting of these online upstarts, the bloggers.

An 'enormous force'

Mr Chouard, the teacher turned blogger, has become a folk hero for the 'Non' campaigners who rebelled against what they saw as an out of touch political elite.

Fans posting to his blog have asked where they can send contributions to erect a statue of him in Marseille,

He took issue with the 66,000 word constitution saying that it would be difficult to amend and that it did not lay out the separation of powers between agencies.

The "Yes" campaigners argued that the blogs were perpetuating myths and half-truths, French internet consultant Stanislas Magniant told the BBC.

But those opposed to the constitution found the internet in general and blogs in particular as one of the ways to get their message out, he said.

"Proponents of 'No' have said the mainstream media have been shamelessly in favour of the 'Yes'. They said the internet was the main area where the democratic debate can take place," he added.

But it was not just Mr Chouard, Nicolas Vanbremeersch of the blog Publius actually expected more online activism than took place in France after the role of blogs in the US presidential campaign last year.

But he told the BBC News Website that both "Yes" and "No" campaigners used the internet and weblogs extensively.

However, the "Yes" side's internet efforts were too late and too little.

"The 'No' side, the extreme left, was very organised on the internet. The 'Yes' side has been late in taking up blogs as interactive tools," he said.

The political left already had many internet sites ahead of the constitutional campaign and they quickly launched blogs for the campaign, he added.

Mr Magniant is not ready to say that blogs were a determining factor in the referendum, but he does believe that blogs dramatically lowered the barrier to entry to take part in political debate.

"In terms of grassroots power, (blogs) have been an enormous force," he said.

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