EU hopes to avoid a second treaty referendum in France

4th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, May 4, 2007 (AFP) - European Union leaders are impatient to seal a new treaty of sorely-need reforms and will welcome the new French president's involvement, but experts say they may prefer that leader to be Nicolas Sarkozy.

BRUSSELS, May 4, 2007 (AFP) - European Union leaders are impatient to seal a new treaty of sorely-need reforms and will welcome the new French president's involvement, but experts say they may prefer that leader to be Nicolas Sarkozy.

The EU is desperate to end its institutional woes by 2009 to ensure the issue does not dominate European parliamentary elections that year and further undermine public confidence in the bloc.

*sidebar1*And with time of the essence, right-winger Sarkozy -- the favourite to win on Sunday according to opinion polls -- best fits the bill as he has pledged not to put the future treaty to a referendum.

"It's clear. They said: 'No'," last time, he underlined in Wednesday's television debate with his Socialist opponent Segolene Royal.

Almost two years ago voters in France -- and separately in the Netherlands -- rejected a draft constitution, aimed at simplifying the way the EU operates and makes its decisions.

"Like many other Europeans who are not French, the idea of a new referendum seems to me like Russian roulette," said Belgium's former ambassador to the EU Philippe de Schoutheete.

"If it were to fail again, something which no one can rule out, it would be a major catastrophe and I don't see how Europe could get out of it."

Sarkozy's solution is a "mini-treaty" cherry-picking the practical parts of the constitution, which he says could be ratified by parliament.

"I would unblock the situation in Europe by proposing a simplified treaty," said Sarkozy, who seldom attended EU meetings when he was interior minister and preferred to resolve problems in small groups of countries.

Royal said many French people rejected the constitution "because they think that Europe does not protect them enough" and that "I want, once again, to consult the French people by referendum."

For Goeran Von Sydow, researcher at the Swedish institute for European policy studies, "the trend seems to be moving more toward what Sarkozy is proposing."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of June, wants to use the month-long window of political opportunity after the French poll to refine a "road map" on the way ahead.

Sarkozy's plan could slot into her timetable, but Von Sydow said the "negotiating strategy" of both candidates is not clear enough to demonstrate how, or indeed if, they can influence the reform process.

British Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff warned that "the parameters for solving the crisis over the constitution are going to be set pretty firmly by the German presidency."

"If Sarkozy thinks he's got significant room for manoeuvre I think he's wrong."

The experts were less concerned about the candidates' different attitudes toward Turkey's EU membership, a topic which raises the room temperature whenever it is raised in Brussels.

France opposes it, along with Austria and Germany, while Britain has led support for Ankara's candidature as a way of exporting stability to a region reaching into the Middle East.

Sarkozy repeated that he "will oppose Turkey's entry," while Royal said it was "time for a pause," although she said "the door should not be slammed shut."

"This question is important but only in the longer run, while the constitution question has to be solved within a month," underlined Von Sydow.

Above all, Duff said, Europe seeks "consistency and clarity in France's EU policies," which have been missing under President Jacques Chirac, but he warned that patience might be needed.

"For both, clearly, their experience of politics outside Paris seems to me to be extremely small and they will have a big learning curve as soon as they become president," he said.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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