Much of the voting on the new treaty in France this weekend - as well as in the Netherlands next week - will be influenced by social questions. It is one of the merits of these referendums that they have stimulated wide debate on the European Union's social dimension.

But it has been a debate clouded by half-truths, with both sides claiming that their position on the treaty is legitimate from the social point of view. It is all the more complex since opposition to the treaty is linked at least in part to last year's enlargement of the EU - which took place without any public debate or referendums in the EU15. And the No camp has systematically exploited fears about Polish or Latvian workers.

That is why it is important to assess just what is at stake in social terms in the enlarged EU, so as to be able to judge accurately just what the treaty brings with it in this sphere.

There is no doubt that the 2004 enlargement has introduced some economic and social divergences that will take time and effort to overcome, and which will continue to give rise to some social dumping. But the culprits that have provoked this slow social catching-up are in large measure the leaders of the EU15 themselves: their lack of solidarity led them to refuse to increase their budget contributions for the enlarged EU, to extend their structural funding policy to the new member states, and to allow workers to benefit from immediate freedom of movement. It was, in fact, the enlargement rather than the new treaty which was badly prepared.

At the same time, it has to be recognised that relocation from west to east is not just scaremongering by the No camp. It has already taken place, on a massive scale, often concealed through sub-contracting, and above all among major industries and transnational companies seeking to turn the new member states into low-cost export platforms to supply the new market of 500 million consumers. And it will continue to take place as it extends into the smaller company and service sectors.

Some of the policies and practices in the new member states have tended to deepen rather than bridge the gap, since they have often reflected not only structural differences but also different ideologies - sometimes ultra-liberal. In consequence, it will be harder and harder, if not impossible, to make progress in the social domain.

Against that background, what is the social contribution of the treaty?

At first glance, the answer...

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