PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac made a dramatic last-ditch appeal yesterday for French voters to ratify the European Union's first constitution, saying the choice is ''about your future and that of your children."
Chirac warned of dire consequences if Sunday's referendum produces a French ''no" to the treaty -- planned as the next big step in a 50-year process of European integration.
''It would open a period of divisions, of doubts, of uncertainties," he warned in a televised address from the presidential Elysee Palace, his last of a tumultuous campaign. ''What a responsibility if France, a founder nation of Europe, took the risk of breaking the union of our continent."
Chirac did not address mounting speculation he will fire his unpopular prime minister if France rejects the landmark treaty.
But he urged the French not to turn the plebiscite into a vote of sanction against his administration.
''We must not mistake the question," said Chirac. ''It is not about saying yes or no to the government. It is about your future, that of your children, of the future of France and the future of Europe."
Chirac urged the French not to turn Sunday's referendum into a vote of sanction against his government. ''The decision before us goes far beyond traditional political divisions," he said.
He said Europeans would regard French rejection ''as a 'no' to Europe."
If voters reject the constitution, Chirac would suffer the humiliation of becoming only the second leader, after General Charles de Gaulle, of losing a referendum since the founding of the French Fifth Republic in 1958.
A ''no" could, at least temporarily, kill off the proposed constitution and its stated goal of closer integration among the EU's 25 member states. Each state must approve the text by referendum or parliamentary vote for it to take effect in 2006.
Proponents say the constitution, which EU leaders signed last October, will streamline EU operations and decision-making and give the bloc a president and foreign minister. But French opponents say it will lead to a loss of sovereignty and an influx of cheap labor.