When the French referendum on the European Constitution is considered from abroad it appears to be full of paradoxes.
First, although the major political parties have officially endorsed the text, there is still an enormous uncertainty as to the outcome. All the polls since mid-march have indeed placed the “no” side in a leading position. Secondly, although only the first two parts of the text present new elements, the debate has so far centered on the third part. Some of the basic principles of the Rome Treaty of 1957, such as free competition and the four freedoms of movement now appear excessively liberal to be “engraved” in a constitution.
Thirdly, despite the intensity of the debate the campaign has mainly focused on issues that are unrelated to the Constitution (for instance, the Bolkestein directive and Turkish membership of the EU).
These paradoxes underscore the need to analyze the ongoing French debate and to advance a few explanatory factors. Hence, this paper has three distinct parts. The first provides a general description of the main events since mid-July, the second describes the most relevant actors in the campaign and, finally, the third attempts to put forward some explanations