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France's Political Rift

The close vote in September on the Maastricht Treaty exposed the depth of discontent with the country's political establishment

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WHO are those French people who nearly capsized the Maastricht Treaty in September, after the warning shot fired by the Danes last June? Those who voted "no" are disproportionately farmers and workers, whereas managers, the professions, teachers, and businessmen were heavily in favor of Maastricht. Those with the highest levels of formal education also gave strong backing. Two-thirds of those who pursued their studies beyond the age of 21 said "yes" to the treaty.

In terms of party ties, the "no" side got 90 percent of the votes of the Communists and 90 percent of the extreme right. At the other pole, 80 percent of Socialists went with President Francois Mitterand in favor of Maastricht.

But the real dividing lines seem to have been psychological rather than political or sociological. The true boundary between the France which said "yes" and the one which said "no" runs between those who look to their future with confidence and those who are fearful about it.

Given this, it becomes easier to understand why the outcome was so close. For those French people who live in anxiety, the coming together in favor of a "yes" to Maastricht of the major parties of the left and right, who have governed France for 20 years, altered the vote's meaning. The question was no longer whether one approved the text of the treaty (obscure enough to discourage the best efforts at understanding it), but whether one trusted the established leadership.

Public anxieties are growing. Twenty years ago, the unemployed in France numbered 300,000; today they are officially 3 million, not counting those benefiting from the so-called "social treatment of unemployment" - early retirement, for instance. Among the tasks they have assigned to their government, the French give highest priority to improving the employment situation, which explains their dissatisfaction with the way the country is being run.

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