France heads for decisive vote on reform package

Senators gave Sarkozy’s key constitutional reform package a clear go-ahead on Wednesday. But French lawmakers are gearing up for a close vote during a congress in Versailles on Monday.


So far, so good. The constitutional reform bill was given the green light by the French Council of Ministers in April 2008 and then got the official nod from Senate on July 16. But the heat is on as MPs from both chambers prepare to meet in Versailles on Monday to vote on a reform bill backed by Nicolas Sarkozy that will overhaul the French constitution.


If adopted, the bill will allow the head of state to address parliament and set a two-term limit for presidents. The reform should allow French citizens to seize the Constitutional Council directly to challenge a law and restrict the use of the controversial article 49-3 – which allows government to exceptionally limit parliamentary debate.


Monday’s vote is difficult to predict. The French Socialist Party (PS) has decided to vote against it. It believes the bill transfers too many powers to the president and does not reform the Senate.


The leftwing slammed a bill it believes gives the president too much power, but said it would give it the green light if certain conditions were met. The PS wants to limit the presidential speech time on TV and grant foreigners the right to vote in local elections. “The French president thinks these demands are excessive,” comments FRANCE 24’s French politics specialist, Roselyne Febvre.


“To become law, the text requires approval from three thirds of lawmakers. The vote could swing either way,” she added.

Last-minute proposals from Sarkozy

To secure support across party lines, Nicolas Sarkozy made last-minute concessions to the socialist camp. In an interview with Le Monde, a few hours before the senators voted on the bill, the French head of state said he thought the opposition should be allowed to respond on TV every time the president addressed domestic policy. 


He also offered to grant equal time for the opposition and the majority in parliamentary debates. However, “these last-minute concessions did not sway the Socialists,” said Febvre, “Nicolas Sarkozy announced these proposals late in the debate so that he could hold the Socialists responsible if the bill is rejected.”


The PS General Secretary François Hollande, said Sarkozy’s proposal were “deceptive.” The MP from Corrèze asserted he would hold Nicolas Sarkozy responsible if the Versailles Congress fails: “Together the left-wing camp does not hold a two-fifths minority.” 


Considered to be one of the main priorities of Sarkozy’s mandate, the institutional reforms hang on the MPs decision. If the bill is rejected, the president would be hard-hit.

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