Da The Guardian del 31/05/2005
Originale su http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,1495872,00.html

Europe's shattered dream: Blair to challenge Chirac

di Jon Henley, Nicholas Watt, Patrick Wintour

Britain and other members of "new Europe" are planning to challenge Jacques Chirac to declare whether the EU constitution is dead or alive after the emphatic French no in Sunday's referendum.

Amid surprise that Paris and Berlin appear determined to press ahead with the ratification process after a 55% no vote, Mr Chirac will be asked in private whether France will be consulted again in a second poll - the only way of reviving the constitution.

A negative response from the French president will pave the way for Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland - which are all facing tough referendums - to cancel their polls on the grounds that the constitution is dead.

An equivocal answer from Mr Chirac, who will today appoint a new prime minister as he attempts to shore up his presidency, will prompt awkward questions as leaders ask how they can be expected to campaign in favour of a document that may never come into force.

"We will want to know if he believes the French people have spoken or whispered," one EU diplomat said. "It is a legitimate question to ask the French what happens next. They have created this problem, so what are they going to do about it?"

Tony Blair, who yesterday called for a period of reflection, is refusing to cancel the British referendum for the moment, out of respect for the Netherlands, which goes to the polls tomorrow. Opinion polls suggest that Dutch voters will also reject the treaty.

A double no from two founding members of the EU in the space of three days would deal such a blow to the constitution that all sides may agree it is dead. This would clear the way for Jack Straw to announce the cancellation of the British referendum when he addresses MPs on Monday.

If the picture is less clear, it is understood that the prime minister and other leaders fac ing difficult referendum campaigns will make their move in private at the European summit in Brussels on June 16-17.

They will stop short of calling on Mr Chirac to deliver the last rites to the constitution.

But diplomats believe he will find it difficult to reach any other conclusion when he is asked whether France will be given another chance to vote.

Sir Stephen Wall, the prime minister's former European adviser, said it was all but im possible now to hold a British referendum.

"You can imagine Tony Blair saying to the British people, 'The French have voted no, but please vote yes, but by the way if we vote yes, the French will have to have another referendum and before they have that, they are likely to make some changes, and by the way, the changes they will want are the very ones we resisted first time round.' I just don't see that."

Ken Clarke, the former chan cellor whose Tory leadership ambitions have been improved by the result, said: "The British public would think that their political elite were completely crazy if we held a referendum."

Mr Chirac, in a desperate attempt to ensure that he does not turn into a lame duck before the next presidential election in 2007, is today expected to sack his unpopular prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and reshuffle his cabinet.

But Mr Chirac, who yesterday telephoned fellow European leaders, faces a difficult choice for a new prime minister. The two frontrunners, who were summoned to the Elysée palace yesterday, have strengths and weaknesses.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who started his preparations for the presidential election by resigning last year as finance minister to head Mr Chirac's UMP party, is France's most popular politician. But he is a bitter rival of Mr Chirac, his former mentor.

Dominique de Villepin, the interior minister who shot to prominence as foreign minister during the Iraq war, is a Chirac loyalist. But appointing an aristocrat who has never been elected may send the wrong signal after voters de livered such a thumbs down to the political elite.

Amid this background, Mr Blair chose his words carefully when he broke off from a Tuscan holiday to respond to the French result. Refusing to cancel the British referendum, he said: "If there is a constitutional treaty to vote upon, we will have a vote in Britain before ratifying it."

He added: "What emerges so strongly... is this deep, profound underlying anxiety that people in Europe have about how the economy of Europe... faces up to the challenges of the modern world."

The Foreign Office was more bullish in private about the death of the treaty, saying there was no chance of Britain going ahead.

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