French European Constitution referendum, 2005

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The French referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was held on 29 May 2005 to decide whether France should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. The result was a victory for the "No" campaign, with 55% of voters rejecting the treaty on a turnout of 69%.

The question put to voters was:

Approuvez-vous le projet de loi qui autorise la ratification du traité établissant une Constitution pour l'Europe ?
"Do you approve the bill authorising the ratification of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe?"

France was the first country to reject the treaty, and the second country to go to the polls in a referendum on ratification, after a Spanish referendum approved the treaty by a wide margin in February 2005. France's rejection of the Constitution left the treaty with an uncertain future, with other EU member states pledging to continue with their own arrangements for ratification.

Campaign[edit]

National referendums on the
European Constitutional Treaty (TCE)
(European Union) (2004)
Superseded by the
Treaty of Lisbon (2007)
Czech Republic Cancelled; never held
Denmark Cancelled; never held
France No (55%) (with 69% turnout)
Ireland Cancelled; never held
Luxembourg Yes (57%) (with 88% turnout)
Netherlands No (62%) (with 63% turnout)
Poland Cancelled; never held
Portugal Cancelled; never held
Spain Yes (77%) (with 42% turnout)
United Kingdom   Cancelled; never held
Parliamentary approvals
The text of the European Constitution, as distributed to each French voter

President Jacques Chirac's decision to hold a referendum was thought in some part to have been influenced in part by the surprise announcement that the United Kingdom was to hold a vote of its own, though it was also widely commented that the expected easy victory would also be an expression of confidence in the President. Moreover, it would do much to cement his legacy as a French statesman. It would also have a divisive effect on the opposition Socialist Party.[1] Although the adoption of a Constitution had initially been played down as a 'tidying-up' exercise with no need for a popular vote, as increasing numbers of EU member states announced their intention to hold a referendum, the French government came under increasing pressure to follow suit.

The date was announced on 4 March 2005. Opinion polling had shown the "Yes" and "No" campaigns in the lead at various times, but in the weeks leading up the referendum the "No" campaign consistently held the lead. This led many, even some on the "Yes" side, to predict openly that France would reject the Constitution.[2]

Socialist Party vote on stance[edit]

On 1 December 2004, the opposition Socialist Party held a vote among its members to determine the stance it would take. The issue of the Constitution had caused considerable divisions within the party, with many members—although broadly in favour of European integration—opposing the Constitution for reasons including a perceived lack of democratic accountability, and the threat they considered it posed to the European social model. The "Yes" side was led by party leader François Hollande while the "No" side was led by deputy leader Laurent Fabius. A former prime minister of France (1984–1986), Laurent Fabius traditionally on the center right of the Socialist Party opted for the No to the Constitution, switching to the left of the party. For many commentators, this paradoxical move was a gamble to get the upper hand within the party before the next presidential elections, in case of success of the No vote.[3]

Within the Socialist Party, out of 127,027 members eligible to vote, 59% voted "Yes", with a turnout of 79%. Out of 102 Socialist Party regional federations, 26 voted "No".

Amendment to the French Constitution[edit]

The Constitutional Council of France ruled that the European Constitution could not legally coexist with the current Constitution of France. For that reason, a vote was taken to amend the Constitution of France to make the two documents compatible.

This amendment passed in an extraordinary joint session of deputies and senators at the Palace of Versailles on 28 February 2005, with 730 votes in favour and 66 votes against, with 96 abstentions. Both the ruling party and the Socialists supported the constitutional amendment. Communist Party members were the only ones to vote against it.[4]

Opinion polls and course of the campaign[edit]

Initial opinion polls showed a clear majority in favour of the Constitution, but public opposition grew over time. By May, the "Yes" campaign's lead was smaller than the opinion pollsters' margin of error.

The three major political forces in France (UMP, PS and UDF) supported the proposed Constitution, as did president Chirac. Supporters of the Constitution from the left sought to emphasise that the treaty incorporates a Charter of Fundamental Rights and thus helped to secure the future of the European social model. Somewhat surprisingly considering his usual political orientation, Jacques Chirac defended it as a possible barrier against neoliberal economic policies.

Olivier Besancenot, José Bové and Jean-Luc Mélenchon at a meeting supporting the "No" vote.

Objections to the Constitution in France can be broadly divided into two camps. On the left, many expressed the view that the Constitution would enforce a neoliberal economic model. Among those were some members of the Socialist Party who dissented from the party's stance as decided by its internal referendum, some members of the Green Party (though the party's official policy was also to support ratification), the Communist Party and the Citizen and Republican Movement - a small party allied to the Socialist Party. The Radical Party of the Left, another ally of the Socialist Party, was divided on the question: its main representatives were for the Constitution, while Christiane Taubira, who was candidate for the PRG in 2002, was against it.

Other parties of the hard left, such as the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League and Workers' Struggle, as well as associations like ATTAC and trade unions such as the CGT or SUD opposed ratification. These critics sought to link the Constitution to the proposed directive on services in the internal market, which is widely opposed in France.

There were also prominent opponents of the Constitution from the right, notably Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (a Gaullist) and Philippe de Villiers (of the Movement for France), and from the extreme right, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front, who opposed the Constitution on the grounds that France should not be part of any institution whose decisions can take precedence over what is decided in France at a national level. Another factor in the defeat of the Constitution may have been the linking of the Constitution in the minds of voters with the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, with which most of the French population disagrees.

Results[edit]

Ballots for the referendum.
French European Constitution referendum, 2005
Choice Votes  %
Referendum failed No 15,449,508 54.67
Yes 12,808,270 45.33
Valid votes 28,257,778 97.48
Invalid or blank votes 730,522 2.52
Total votes 28,988,300 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 41,789,202 69.37
Source: French Minister of the Interior

By departament[edit]

Departament For Against Electorate Votes Valid votes Invalid votes
Paris 532,040 268,617 1,084,114 813,783 800,657 13,126
Seine-et-Marne 225,904 278,308 733,535 515,100 504,212 10,888
Yvelines 353,085 240,020 836,989 603,361 593,105 10,256
Essonne 236,408 243,221 685,325 489,493 479,629 9,864
Hauts-de-Seine 358,968 220,915 826,795 590,084 579,883 10,201
Seine-Saint-Denis 150,848 241,151 637,385 400,193 391,999 8,194
Val-de Marne 229,880 229,921 684,036 468,400 459,801 8,599
Val-de Oise 191,269 219,831 616,343 419,287 411,100 8,187
Ardennes 47,478 80,125 192,179 130,267 127,603 2,664
Aube 56,807 75,345 196,136 135,355 132,152 3,203
Marne 113,948 131,988 370,728 251,129 245,936 5,193
Haute-Marne 39,795 55,921 141,073 98,157 95,716 2,441
Aisne 85,475 171,616 366,193 262,564 257,091 5,473
Oise 134,591 223,129 513,072 364,718 357,720 6,998
Somme 95,893 192,968 400,004 295,053 288,861 6,192
Eure 100,447 170,308 382,292 276,369 270,755 5,614
Seine-Maritime 208,546 388,712 841,738 609,469 597,258 12,211
Cher 60,935 92,927 226,259 158,261 153,862 4,399
Eure-et-Loir 82,338 111,075 279,243 198,386 193,413 4,973
Indre 44,871 77,338 174,877 126,492 122,209 4,283
Indre-et-Loire 123,389 146,707 378,397 276,931 270,096 6,835
Loir-et-Cher 67,721 97,425 232,895 169,794 165,146 4,648
Loiret 133,025 153,360 412,617 294,019 286,385 7,634
Calvados 142,966 180,191 459,573 330,020 323,157 6,863
Manche 114,958 136,363 359,667 257,898 251,321 6,577
Orne 66,478 82,947 211,837 153,240 149,425 3,815
Côte-d'Or 107,202 125,347 331,637 237,934 232,549 5,385
Nièvre 41,764 72,635 166,883 117,365 114,399 2,966
Saône-et-Loire 107,843 157,135 397,394 273,830 264,978 8,852
Yonne 64,037 97,586 236,494 165,341 161,623 3,718
Nord 437,285 711,580 1,725,296 1,174,968 1,148,865 26,103
Pas-de-Calais 224,109 510,509 1,055,794 752,109 734,618 17,491
Meurthe-et-Moselle 138,272 180,239 473,008 324,790 318,511 6,279
Meuse 39,618 56,103 137,901 97,943 95,721 2,222
Moselle 209,035 253,176 721,154 472,035 462,211 9,824
Vosges 80,147 115,518 283,696 201,251 195,665 5,586
Bas-Rhin 256,189 200,433 687,298 469,067 456,622 12,445
Haut-Rhin 162,079 163,923 489,991 334,895 326,002 8,893
Doubs 110,011 128,414 337,752 244,753 238,425 6,328
Jura 54,899 74,398 180,881 133,094 129,297 3,797
Haute-Saône 46,099 79,224 175,160 129,050 125,323 3,727
Territoire de Belfort 23,690 39,529 89,511 64,780 63,219 1,561
Loire-Atlantique 305,127 291,722 844,344 614,434 596,849 17,585
Maine-et-Loire 192,037 170,367 518,825 375,170 362,404 12,766
Mayenne 77,285 70,285 214,687 153,542 147,570 5,972
Sarthe 113,383 152,878 387,989 274,574 266,261 8,313
Vendée 154,034 152,786 441,749 318,454 306,820 11,634
Côtes-d'Armor 146,445 166,991 430,720 321,966 313,436 8,530
Finistère 232,396 222,193 640,668 466,318 454,589 11,729
Ille-et-Vilaine 240,065 206,110 628,199 459,623 446,175 13,448
Morbihan 183,367 178,653 509,176 372,215 362,020 10,195
Charente 71,631 104,108 253,451 180,984 175,739 5,245
Charente Maritime 130,573 163,652 426,181 302,580 294,225 8,355
Deux-Sèvres 88,433 93,253 261,766 188,900 181,686 7,214
Vienne 91,453 112,596 288,959 210,732 204,049 6,683
Dordogne 83,512 138,347 300,288 229,019 221,859 7,160
Gironde 276,219 355,495 886,995 646,377 631,714 14,663
Landes 79,132 110,917 265,975 195,935 190,049 5,886
Lot-et-Garonne 62,741 102,203 230,573 170,316 164,944 5,372
Pyrénées-Atlantiques 154,086 167,831 460,580 331,988 321,917 10,071
Ariège 28,435 49,949 109,384 80,924 78,384 2,540
Aveyron 71,743 82,493 213,821 160,990 154,236 6,754
Haute-Garonne 240,661 281,408 733,866 536,274 522,069 14,205
Gers 40,949 57,502 136,301 102,328 98,451 3,877
Lot 38,559 57,282 128,313 99,107 95,841 3,266
Hautes-Pyrénées 47,671 74,636 170,504 125,951 122,307 3,644
Tarn 78,028 113,268 264,190 199,171 191,296 7,875
Tarn-et-Garonne 42,784 69,233 156,426 115,806 112,017 3,789
Corrèze 57,351 75,804 183,650 137,807 133,155 4,652
Creuse 25,433 41,386 99,706 69,361 66,819 2,542
Haute-Vienne 74,573 111,589 259,304 193,223 186,162 7,061
Ain 110,194 123,377 346,686 239,628 233,571 6,057
Ardèche 64,249 96,376 224,529 165,306 160,625 4,681
Drôme 93,060 129,696 318,483 228,801 222,756 6,045
Isère 232,316 268,107 730,733 512,671 500,423 12,248
Loire 141,887 179,386 485,077 331,063 321,273 9,790
Rhône 349,663 295,735 945,746 659,433 645,398 14,035
Savoie 90,331 95,412 271,196 190,416 185,743 4,673
Haute-Savoie 159,529 136,243 437,412 303,109 295,772 7,337
Allier 68,600 103,813 253,647 177,961 172,413 5,548
Cantal 38,999 43,203 121,975 84,994 82,202 2,792
Haute-Loire 49,998 68,759 168,088 123,232 118,757 4,475
Puy-de-Dôme 129,582 173,932 428,309 312,453 303,514 8,939
Aude 60,912 111,233 241,648 176,805 172,145 4,660
Gard 116,669 208,200 455,217 332,051 324,869 7,182
Hérault 181,531 273,892 654,395 469,442 455,423 14,019
Lozère 19,409 22,572 58,972 43,435 41,981 1,454
Pyrénées-Orientales 72,704 132,256 294,226 209,578 204,960 4,618
Alpes-de Haute-Provence 32,072 48,647 112,632 82,961 80,719 2,242
Haute Alpes 30,536 38,666 97,823 71,236 69,202 2,034
Alpes-Maritimes 208,426 230,818 668,088 447,793 439,244 8,549
Bouches-du-Rôhne 308,040 498,413 1,179,550 820,994 806,453 14,541
Var 189,811 257,183 666,146 455,280 446,994 8,286
Vaucluse 91,639 154,004 350,503 251,325 245,643 5,682
Corse-du-Sud 20,526 29,183 88,646 50,399 49,709 690
Haute-Corse 25,072 33,181 106,296 59,023 58,253 770
Guadeloupe 33,779 23,863 289,443 64,292 57,642 6,650
Martinique 48,179 21,620 272,339 77,252 69,799 7,453
French Guiana 6,850 4,541 54,762 12,655 11,391 1,264
Réunion 95,298 142,871 471,155 252,641 238,169 14,472
Sainte Pierre and Miquelon 1,139 678 4,805 1,879 1,817 62
Mayotte 17,585 2,754 55,904 21,052 20,339 713
Wallis and Futuna 4,772 550 10,385 5,367 5,322 45
French Polynesia 30,649 11,404 157,044 42,749 42,053 696
New Caledonia 35,948 9,691 135,217 46,988 45,639 1,349
Source: European Election Database

Consequences[edit]

The possible consequences of a "No" vote were highly debated in France before the referendum. Proponents of the Constitution, including Jacques Chirac, claimed that France's standing in Europe had been considerably weakened.

Pro-EU campaigners for a "No" vote (as opposed to those opposing the EU altogether) argue that the Constitution will be renegotiated. "No" vote campaigners, particularly the prominent socialist Laurent Fabius, have labelled this option Plan B. Campaigners for a "Yes" vote have stated that there would be no such Plan B and that the 'European project' could be brought to a standstill for at least ten years.

Practically the perspective of a renegotiation quickly appeared illusory after the result of the referendum. First, the challenge of a renegotiation was made all the greater by the diversity of reasons for the rejection of the treaty, ranging from the far left who saw the Constitution as a "capitalists' charter", to the far right who opposed it on nationalistic grounds.


Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was quickly replaced by Dominique de Villepin. UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy returned to cabinet as Minister of the Interior.

Although this rejection and the similar no-vote in the Dutch referendum seriously damaged the Constitution, subsequent EU Presidency holders have vowed to keep it going.

Sarkozy was elected President of the French Republic in May 2007. Amongst his pledges was a re-negotiation and ratification of a mini-treaty without a referendum. Eventually, the new version of the text, the Lisbon Treaty, was voted by the Parliament.

On the internal political scene, the success of the No did not have the expected effect on the political landscape. Begrudged by the members of the Socialist Party for his divisive role, Laurent Fabius lost the race to the presidential primaries for the 2007 elections, finishing third (18.66%) behind Segolene Royal (60.65%) and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (20.83%). The proponents of the Yes eventually got the upper hand in the party, and the lasting division of the far left prevented the apparition of a strong opposition force on left of the Socialist Party by the proponents of the No. On the right of the political spectrum, the far right did not benefit from the success of the No and suffered, for the first time in 15 years a strong decline in the 2007 elections.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]