L'Escroc was on TV last night in a scripted "informal" Q&A session with 80 young people. I listened to a bit of it and I cannot say I was impressed. L'Escroc has a grandeur problem you see and seems to incapable, these days, of not appearing to be patronizing. Apparently in person he can be charming etc. etc. bt put him in front of a TV camera and he seems to slip back in to "Papa knows best" mode. I don't know how the majority of French people perceived his performance but going on some of the reactions at Yahoo France (machine translation), it wasn't the overwhelming success he needed.
The knives are out in the Chirac camp, with the President’s allies accusing Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of his Union for a Popular Majority party, of deliberate lacklustre campaigning because a “no” would further his own ambition to replace M Chirac. The political heirs of the late General Charles de Gaulle are also feuding over which way their hero would have voted.
The Economist also makes the point that Sarkozy seems more concerned to present Sarko as an alternative to L'Escroc than to push the constitution. To be honest though I'm not sure that Sarkozy could do much more than lend additional energy to moving the deck-chairs around as the ship sinks. The Torygraph has an article that repeats a lot of the same problems that the Wapping Liar notes but it also echoes my own feelings. L'Escroc did not come out fighting or show any confidence in his TV appearance last night, on the contrary his hand-picked audience seemed deliberatley designed to remove anyone who might ask difficult questions.
Memories of France's hesitant approval of the Maastricht treaty in a 1992 referendum have given recent historical context to the row over last night's programme.
Mr Chirac's Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand, already in seriously fading health, faced Philippe Seguin, a formidable leader of the No camp, in a heated debate ahead of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
The Left-wing daily Libération pointed out yesterday that Mr Mitterrand's defence of his position transformed the Yes campaign's standing in the polls. The vote was, in the end, won only by a whisker but the late president's performance is often said to have been crucial.
There is nothing to stop Mr Chirac, in the six weeks remaining before France decides, emulating Mr Mitterrand's gesture by accepting a head-to-head TV debate or submitting himself to a Paxman-style grilling. But last night he stood condemned by opponents and journalists alike of blurring politics and entertainment.
Since, in effect, the referendum is becoming one on approval or disapproval of Chirac this is deadly, as is, in my opinion, the way that once the polls started looking bad Chirac cravenly gave in to just about every pressure group there was. This is bad in the short term but it is worse in the longer term. Many of the complainst about Chirac which are fuelling the "non" campaign are to do with the persistently bad economic situation in France something that is bound to continue unless France removes more of its statist controls because the EU is no longer a way for the Germans (and British) to subsidize the lifestyles of the French. Without the infusion of EU cash and with idiotic regulations such as the 35 hour week there is no way that France can survive. Unfortunately explaining that to a populace that has been taught in every public forum that the capitalism of "les Anglo-saxons" is the root of all evil is not an easy job.
The fact that, ironically, the constitution ends up being much more statist that most of Northern and Eastern Eurosceptics want is completely missed. Given that the constitution was written by a panel led by a Frenchman and that it incorporates much of the Napoleonic code of governance the objections of the French to the constitution appear rather illogical when looked at from outside. It seems to me that the simple message the French population is saying is that if the EU doesn't promise to always put the interests of France at the top then the French don't want it. The rest of Europe might like to bear that attitude in mind.