With the opinion polls from France consistently suggesting a "no" vote to the EU constitution in the May 29 referendum, discussion elsewhere in Europe has now moved on: plans are being made not for if France votes no, but for when it does.

EU President-in-office Jean-Claude Juncker insists that ratification plans should go ahead across the member states in any event. He says a "no" vote in one country should not bring the approval of the new treaty to a halt. In strictly legal terms, the constitution has to go through the ratification process in all 25 member states, he points out. Only at the end of the process should the EU review how many states have failed to ratify, who are they, and by what margin. His reasoning is doubtless driven by the conviction that when all the tallies are in, France could be persuaded to hold a second referendum.

But as things stand at present, it is difficult to see how the constitution could be repackaged for French voters so that they might reverse a "no" vote. Substantial renegotiation is out of the question as anyone familiar with the difficulties in arriving at the current text will testify. In any case, much French opposition is only tenuously related to the constitution's content; many "no" votes will be a protest on domestic issues...

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