French President Jacques Chirac sent TV ratings soaring last week during his appearance championing the yes vote for France's May 29 referendum on the European Union constitution. But he won few accolades for his performance. A peak audience of over 9 million prime-time viewers watched Chirac field questions from a carefully selected group of around 80 young people an educational chat aimed at explaining the constitution and reversing the trend toward no. Chirac stressed that the constitution will protect Europe from "the ultraliberal current" of globalization rather than succumb to it as the no forces contend. He warned that France would "cease to exist politically" if no prevailed, and urged voters to seek "strength in union" within the E.U. by embracing a constitution whose content and inspiration he described as "essentially French."
Despite Chirac's often impassioned arguments, a poll taken the next day found he hadn't convinced 60% of respondents, nor eroded the no lead of 56%. "The show failed as a demonstrative explanation of the constitution's importance, but Chirac's actual impact will take longer than a day to measure," warns Dominique Reynié, a European affairs expert at Paris' Foundation of Political Science, who says the President's appeal to "not be frightened" may work slowly with some voters. The President's best line: his booming "Non!" when asked if he would resign if the yes campaign was defeated.