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French Find Reasons To Vote No on Union

While France remains split on a unity treaty as the vote approaches, some say they want a better vision for Europe

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 1992



LE MANS, FRANCE

WHEN the lunchtime conversation among four computer technicians who work in the city center here turns to the referendum on European union Sept. 20, Gerard David takes his friends by surprise with his announcement that he will vote no.

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"I am not against Europe, in fact I want a stronger Europe, but I want to be more sure than I am with this treaty that we are building the right one," says the young employee of an insurance company. "Too much in this treaty, like a single money for all 12 [European Community] countries, is fuzzy and the effects are undefined. Wishful thinking is not enough."

Fifteen weeks have passed since French President Francois Mitterrand announced that his country would vote in a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, whose year-long negotiation was completed last December by EC leaders in the Dutch city that gives the treaty its name. In that time it is the Mr. Davids of France who have astonished Europe and much of the world by revealing a France that is less willing to embrace this particular blueprint for a more-integrated Europe than most people, including Mr. Mitter rand, had assumed.

Final polls released last weekend showed either an even split on Maastricht or numbers slightly in favor, with "undecided" a major category. Most analysts are guessing the French will approve the treaty, but with a much smaller majority than once assumed.

Interviews in Le Mans, a city of 150,000 best known for its famous auto race, insurance, and a minced pork spread called rillettes, reveal an electorate as divided as national polls suggest.

Treaty supporters announce without hesitation their support for "Europe" as the reason for voting yes. "I feel European, I'll vote for Maastricht so the Europe of free travel and commerce and closer cooperation can progress," says Sylvie Campenon, an office worker.

"I might have some concerns, but they are outweighed by hope," says Michele Bourgouin, who owns a specialty foods shop.

Yet supporters of a "no" vote are almost unanimous in insisting, like Mr. David, that they, too, want a stronger Europe. The difference is that their "hopes" for Europe are outweighed by fears that Maastricht would take France and the rest of the EC down the wrong path.

Surprisingly absent from "no" supporters' comments are references to domestic politics - the temptation to use the referendum to "send a message" to the unpopular Mitterrand - that many analysts assumed would fuel the anti-Maastricht vote. Instead, most "no" supporters have reasoned arguments indicating the referendum has led the French to undertake the deeper education on Europe that Mitterrand sought. Gripes with Maastricht

High on opponents' list are worries over a centralized, bureaucratic, and increasingly apolitical Europe that will be run by faceless technocrats in Brussels, the center of EC government. They postulate that instead of uniting Europe, a single EC money will cause friction: It will remove a participating country's ability to manage its own economic needs with monetary adjustments; and it will lead to a two-tier Europe separating the economically strong from the weak.