by RAY FLEMING
FRENCH opinion polls have been wrong before on referendums but it will be a major surprise if their unanimous prediction of a “No” vote in today's referendum on the European Constituion is proved wrong. President Chirac made a dignified appeal to the French people on TV before the campaing ended for yesterday's day of reflection; he concluded by saying, “Dear compatriots, on Sunday it will be a question of Europe and the future of France. Each of us will have in our hands part of the destiny of France.” It was just the kind of Gaullist peroration that might have swung the undecided voters towards supporting the constitution. Curiously enough, the lofty and aristocratic former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the principal author of this troublesome constitution, took a much more blokeish line in the advice he offered to his compatriots. He predicted that the “Oui” camp would overcome huge odds and win like Liverpool had done against AC Milan in the Champions League cup final. “I believe in the common sense of the French,” he said, “So I say to them, Don't kick a goal against your own side”. Whether the French will respond to the idea that they should emulate the English must be open to question. One of their main objections to the constitution is that its vision of the Europe of the future is too British in character for their liking. If the result tonight goes against the constitution, the first requirement will be for everyone to keep calm, especially headline writers inclined to predict the end of Europe as we know it. Remember that the Dutch will be voting on Wednesday. The important longer-term point is that there are many uncontroversial and valuable things in the constitution that can be salvaged for the future. The task of doing this will fall largely on Tony Blair who takes over the presidency of the EU on July 1.

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