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French Parliament lays groundwork for EU treaty

Latest update : 2008-02-04

The French Parliament ratified changes to the constitution in a extraordinary session held on Monday. These changes are required to adopt the new European constitutional treaty passed in Lisbon last fall. Armen Georgian reports.

The French parliament voted Monday to revise the constitution, a key step towards adopting the new EU reform treaty, at a special congress at the Chateau de Versailles.

French and Dutch voters rejected the European Union's draft constitution in 2005, plunging the bloc into several years of institutional gridlock.

Signed in Lisbon last month, the new EU charter is a watered-down version of the doomed constitution, aimed at streamlining decision-making in the bloc.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who championed its adoption, campaigned for it to be ratified by parliament, rather than risk a second referendum as demanded by the left-wing opposition.

Before that can happen, however, French lawmakers had to delete an obsolete reference to the EU's ill-fated constitutional treaty, that was inserted into the French constitution before the 2005 referendum.

The revision, which needed the approval of three-fifths of votes cast by the members of both houses, was approved by 560 votes to 181 against, while 152 lawmakers abstained.

The National Assembly is now to vote on Thursday to adopt the Lisbon treaty itself, followed by the Senate, ahead of a final ratification by Sarkozy.

Several hundred people, including left-wing opponents of the original constitution, staged a protest in Versailles to demand a new referendum, ahead of the vote.

"Nicolas Sarkozy thinks he is above the sovereignty of the people. This is going to end badly," warned Socialist deputy Henri Emmanuelli.

Opposition Socialist lawmakers -- while they plan to vote for the EU treaty itself -- have abstained from the constitutional revision process in protest at Sarkozy's refusal to submit the text to a popular vote.

Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, which has a majority in both houses, overwhelmingly backs the treaty.

UMP spokesman Yves Jego said his party was "united, it is determined to ensure that Europe moves forwards and that this text comes into force as soon as possible."

Like the rejected constitution, the Lisbon treaty proposes a European foreign policy supremo and a permanent president to replace the six-month rotation system.

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.

The treaty must be ratified in all 27-member member states before it can come into force, as planned, in 2009.

Date created : 2008-02-04