Fuck the French. Oops did I say that?
PARIS (Reuters) - Opponents and supporters of the European Union's new constitution battled on Monday to win over the undecided voters who could determine the fate of the charter in a cliff-hanger referendum on Sunday.
Opinion polls put the "No" camp ahead in France as well as in the Netherlands, which votes on the treaty on June 1, raising the prospect of a double rejection which could hold up European integration and cause jitters on financial markets.
The latest French poll showed 52 percent of people who have decided how to vote will reject the constitution, but suggested one in four voters were still undecided.
"The vote on May 29 is going to be tight. Each of us has a historic ballot paper in their hand. So I appeal to people to be responsible," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told the Center-Presse Poitiers newspaper, demanding a high turnout.
However, the "No" camp believes a strong turnout will work in its favor. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said he was confident the treaty would be rejected, but added: "Above all it's necessary for the (would-be) abstainers to come and vote."
Whichever way undecided voters turn, they are key. "The outcome is in their hands," said Francois Miquet-Marty of the Louis Harris Institute research group.
The constitution is intended to set new rules to make the EU work more smoothly following its enlargement in May 2004. Rejection could, in theory, kill it because it needs the approval of all 25 member states to go into force.
A key swing group are left-wing voters, who are split into two camps. Most of the opposition Socialist Party's leaders back the charter and their main task in the last five days of campaigning is to persuade left-wing sympathisers to back them.
The ruling conservatives are trying to convince people to vote on the merits of the constitution and not to think of it as a plebiscite on the government's unpopular economic policies.
Opponents are maintaining their attacks on the EU in general and the treaty in particular, saying a better charter can be renegotiated.
ROLLING OUT THE BIG GUNS
Uncertainty over European integration has increased as a result of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's call for a national election a year early following his Social Democrats' defeat in a state election on Sunday.
"European construction is threatened with breakdown," the newspaper Le Monde said in an editorial.
Campaigning in France is now going into overdrive, with each side rolling out its big guns at rallies and meetings throughout the country this week.
Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will attend rallies on Friday to try to boost the "Yes" camp, and President Jacques Chirac is expected to try to win over undecided voters with a final intervention at some stage.
Leaders of the "No" camp, including Socialist Laurent Fabius, will be prominent at "No" rallies planned throughout France.
The constitution's supporters in France say it will help make decision-making easier, make Europe stronger and reinforce its economy. They say rejecting the charter would leave France isolated and there is no chance of renegotiating the treaty.
Opponents say the constitution imposes an economic model on the EU which they regard as too liberal, does not protect workers and will drive companies out of well-established member states such as France to countries with lower wages and costs.
It's like the Iran-Iraq war. A shame both sides can't lose.