Monday

18th Feb 2019

France wants to save major part of EU constitution, Sarkozy aide says

France's Nicolas Sarkozy will seek to maintain as much of the rejected EU constitution as possible in the upcoming talks on a new treaty for the bloc, a top aide to the president-elect has told EUobserver.

Alain Lamassoure, a prominent centre-right MEP and tipped to be the new Europe minister in the Sarkozy government, said Paris will agree to stick "as much as possible to the original text."

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His comments indicate that Mr Sarkozy is in favour of a re-packaged text containing essentially the same elements.

Referring to removing the EU symbols proposed in the original text as part of a general approach to take away the constitutional feel to the new treaty, Mr Lamassoure said "we will play the European hymn or fly the flag whether it is mentioned in the new treaty or not."

He added that the same applies to the exact title of the future EU's foreign affairs minister. "As long as his status and powers are preserved we're fine with [a title change]."

He expects the new "ordinary treaty" - adopted by national parliaments where possible - will have a maximum of 130 instead of the 448 articles originally proposed.

The institutional changes should remain untouched while the Charter of Fundamental Rights, currently appearing as a whole within the text and raising several legal question for member states - being referred to by a single article.

"That way, the charter can be interpreted as legally binding in some countries, such as France and Germany, and non-binding in others, such as the UK."

Referring to the third part of the constitution which lists EU policies, Mr Lamassoure, who is part of Mr Sarkozy's inner political circle, says "we must distinguish between provisions that are already present in previous treaties and can be dropped as we do not need to replicate them and the new provisions which need to remain."

He indicated France is not prepared to compromise on the list of new areas to be decided by qualified majority rather than unanimity, while admitting that this could become one of the most contentious issues, particularly for the UK.

"This is non-negotiable as it is one of the provisions with the most important added value of the new treaty which seeks to help the enlarged EU to work more efficiently."

The MEP's statements are the first clear public indication of what Paris will be calling for at the EU table when leaders meet to discuss a new institutional settlement next month – a clear French position on the issue has been lacking since French voters rejected the constitution in a referendum almost two years ago.

Defining Europe's borders

Touching on another highly controversial issue, Mr Lamassoure said Paris is going to push for a definition of the bloc's borders in the coming months and a "reorientation" of talks with Turkey.

"EU leaders have been lying to Turks for the past few years and the new French leadership believes we must stop doing so," he said, referring to the bloc's membership negotiations with Ankara kicked off last October.

He argues that citizens in most EU member states are against Turkey joining the union and that it was a main factor in the French rejection of the EU constitution.

"The sooner we will have the courage to say this openly to Turkey the better," said Mr Lamassoure, pointing out that Paris will seek a "re-orientation" of the whole accession talks in which "at the very least, we clearly open other options for the final outcome -other than membership."

"If everything goes well and we agree on the revised EU treaty by the end of this year we envisage that we could also at the same time present to citizens a common political declaration on the ultimate borders of Europe," Mr Lamassoure said.

He said that Paris recognizes the bloc's commitments to the Balkan countries but that "the [EU] borders must be that of the continent."

His comments come on the back of a presidential campaign by Mr Sarkozy in which he repeatedly said he was opposed to Turkish membership.

Mr Lamassoure said that while Mr Sarkozy will be careful not to hijack next month's summit on drawing up an EU treaty with the Turkey question, "we definitely don't want to postpone this issue for too long."

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