EU - France's National Assembly votes to adopt treaty
France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, on Thursday approved the European Union's new reform treaty
PARIS, February 8, 2008 - France's lower house of parliament Thursday
approved the European Union's new reform treaty, three years after rebellious
French voters shot down the EU's ill-fated constitution.
The National Assembly voted resoundingly in favour of the treaty, a
tailored-down version of the constitution that was consigned to oblivion in
French and Dutch referendums in 2005, sparking a Europe-wide crisis.
The upper house Senate is to vote on the charter later Thursday or Friday,
completing its adoption by parliament. It will then be formally ratified by
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who played a leading role in drawing up the text.
France will be the fifth EU country -- and the first major EU power -- to
ratify the new treaty, which must be approved in all 27 member states before
it can come into force as planned in 2009.
France's Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet described it as a "historic
moment" opening a fresh chapter in France's relations with the EU as it
prepares to take over the six-month presidency of the bloc in July.
"This is excellent news, a great victory for France which has gone from
being the country holding up Europe to being the one that pulled Europe out of
gridlock," said Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon.
Hungary was first to ratify the treaty in December, followed by Slovenia
and Malta late last month and Romania which ratified the charter this week.
Sarkozy insisted the new treaty, signed in Lisbon in December, be ratified
by parliament rather than risk a second referendum. But his refusal to submit
it to popular scrutiny has fuelled anger across opposition ranks.
The main opposition Socialists split over the 2005 EU referendum when a
rebel faction defied party leaders to campaign for a "No" vote, and the new
treaty re-opened many of the old wounds.
A breakaway group of Socialist deputies joined the far-left and a handful
of right-wing sovereignists in voting against the treaty on Thursday, while a
small number boycotted the vote entirely.
But most of the Socialists joined the ruling Union for a Popular Movement
and its centrist allies in the National Assembly to back the bill authorising
Sarkozy to ratify the treaty, which was adopted by 336 votes to 52 against.
"This is a great success. Everyone has expressed themself and we need all
of that diversity in order to build Europe," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
said after the vote.
The French parliament held a special congress of both houses Monday to
amend the constitution, deleting an obsolete reference to the doomed draft EU
constitution, to allow the new text to enter French law.
Like the rejected constitution, the Lisbon treaty proposes a European
foreign policy supremo and a permanent president to replace the six-month
Aimed at preventing decision-making gridlock in the expanding organisation,
the charter cuts the size of the European Parliament and the number of EU
decisions which require unanimous support, thus reducing national vetoes.
It also includes a European charter of fundamental human and legal rights,
which Britain and Poland have refused to make binding.
However it drops all references to an EU flag or anthem which had fanned
eurosceptic fears of another step towards a federal Europe, and no longer
cites unbridled competition as a goal for the bloc.
Slovakia's parliament was seeking on Thursday to agree on the text, while
many other countries have yet to set a date for its adoption.
Germany plans to ratify the treaty by June while others such as Sweden,
Spain and the Netherlands are expected to follow suit later in the year.
Only Ireland is constitutionally bound to put the new text before the
electorate in a referendum.
But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been forced to fight off
demands for a plebiscite which most commentators believe would result in a
resounding rejection of the treaty.