France determines the fate of EU

France`s voters flooded to the polls on Sunday to determine the fate of the European Union`s constitutional treaty following weeks of passionate debate about the country`s identity and Europe`s future.

Eight successive opinion polls last week put the No camp in the lead with a majority of between 52 per cent and 56 per cent. However, pollsters suggested that President &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Jacques Chirac`s final television appeal to voters to back the treaty might well have persuaded some wavering voters to say Yes.

Franзois Hollande, first secretary of the Socialist party, who fought a ferocious campaign to persuade his own party members to back the treaty, said: "Everything is possible."

In the provinces, however, a pessimistic outlook dominated attitudes. In places such as Mantes-la-Jolie, a poverty-striken small town to the west of Paris, voters turned up in force at the polls, many to express their discontent with the government, reports the Financial Times.

With three hours to go before the last polling stations close, 66.24 percent of registered voters had already cast their vote, the Interior Ministry said.

That was nearly 10 percentage points up on the turnout at the same time of the day during the 1992 referendum on the Maastricht Treaty on closer EU integration, in which 69.69 percent of voters finally cast their ballot.

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