French lawmakers adopt amendment for EU charter

28th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

VERSAILLES, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - France's deputies and senators, gathered in an extraordinary joint session at the palace of Versailles, on Monday opened the way for a referendum on the adoption of the EU constitution by voting to amend the French constitution.

VERSAILLES, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - France's deputies and senators, gathered in an extraordinary joint session at the palace of Versailles, on Monday opened the way for a referendum on the adoption of the EU constitution by voting to amend the French constitution.

The amendment - passed as expected, with 730 votes for, 66 against and with 96 abstentions - sets the scene for President Jacques Chirac to call a plebiscite on the EU basic law.

Insiders at the presidential Elysee Palace said the referendum would likely be held in May, though the outcome is far from certain.

Polls this month show the French public is split 58-42 percent in favour of a 'yes' vote, but that opposition is increasing.

Part of the resistance stems from Chirac's push for Turkey to be given future EU membership, and part from simmering anger at his government's economic and labour reforms, notably efforts to undermine the 35-hour workweek.

Unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin opened the parliamentary congress by calling the EU constitution a "date with history" and declaring that "sincerely, the right answer is a 'yes'."

Both the ruling conservative UMP party and the opposition Socialists backed the constitutional reform - the 18th since it inception in 1958 - with only Communist Party members voting against it, and a few rebel Socialists abstaining.

A Communist senator, Nicole Borvo, said her party voted against the reform because of fears it would put France on a path to an "ultra-liberal Europe" where big business interests would trump workers' rights.

Ten of the EU's 25 member states are to hold referenda on the EU constitution. Spain held its plebiscite February 20 and won overwhelming approval. Denmark announced Monday it would hold its own on September 27.

The other 15 states, including Germany, the most populous and most economically powerful, are to ratify the adoption of the EU constitution through parliamentary votes only.

The EU constitution must be adopted by all EU members before it comes into force. If that happens, the basic law will streamline decision-making procedures and foreign policy matters made unwieldy by the bloc's expansion eastwards last year.

Monday's joint session at Versailles was only the 13th time such a congress has been held since France's Fifth Republic was founded. The hemicycle in Versailles' southern wing is the only official venue big enough to seat the 907 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 adopted an amendment that elevates environmental protection to the constitutional level.

On that issue, the Socialist Party - keen to show it is not simply endorsing Chirac's agenda - agreed earlier Monday to abstain from voting. The UMP's majority meant the vote was still carried easily.

After the congress, 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.

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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