French MPs assemble on EU referendum

27th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

VERSAILLES, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - France's 576 MPs and 331 senators gathered in a rare joint session in an ornate chamber at the historic palace of Versailles Monday to set the legislative scene for an EU constitution to be adopted - if it passes a referendum.

VERSAILLES, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - France's 576 MPs and 331 senators gathered in a rare joint session in an ornate chamber at the historic palace of Versailles Monday to set the legislative scene for an EU constitution to be adopted - if it passes a referendum.

The 907 politicians were to amend the French constitution to accommodate the EU-wide basic law, should it be ratified in the European bloc's 25-member states.

President Jacques Chirac has staked his prestige - and his legacy - on bringing in the EU constitution.

But while Monday's joint session was expected to adopt the changes needed without any problem, it is a different matter in convincing the French public.

Two opinion surveys last week showed the 'no' camp can count on support of around 40 percent of the electorate.

Much of the resistance is because of public opposition to Chirac's push for Turkey to be given future EU membership - and because of simmering anger against economic and labour reforms by Chirac's conservative government that have sparked street protests.

Insiders at the Elysee palace said the growing dissent meant the referendum could now be brought forward to May, to capitalise on support before it dissipated.

The congress of both houses of parliament itself was brought forward two weeks earlier than had been expected to pave the way for the referendum.

It is only the 13th time such a congress has been held since France's Fifth Republic was founded in 1958. The hemicycle in Versailles' southern wing is the only official venue big enough to seat the hundreds of lawmakers together in one sitting to allow an expedited passage of legislation.

As well as altering France's constitution for the EU constitution, the sitting will seek to pass an amendment elevating environmental protection to the constitutional level.

In both cases, three-quarters of the chamber have to vote to back the measures for them to be adopted.

In the case of the EU constitution, that was expected to be met easily, with both Chirac's UMP party and the opposition Socialists embracing the idea of a more cohesive Europe, especially one based of a constitution drafted by former French president Giscard Valery d'Estaing.

For the environmental issue, the opposition Socialist Party - which had been keen to show it was not simply endorsing Chirac's agenda - agreed earlier Monday to abstain from voting. The UMP's majority meant the vote would still be carried.

After the congress, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was expected to go on national television to officially kick off the campaign of persuading French voters to say 'yes' to the referendum on the EU constitution.

Spain on February 20 became the first of 10 EU states to hold a national consultation on the landmark document.

The other 15 EU members are to ratify the constitution through parliamentary adoption.

In a symbolic meeting underlining the ever closer cohesion within the European Union, Chirac and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, held a summit in the northern French city of Arras while the Versailles session was underway.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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