22nd Mar 2018

French deputies uphold anti-Turkey referendum clause

The lower house of the French parliament on Thursday (29 May) approved an amendment to constitutional reforms that could make it compulsory for France to hold a referendum on large countries joining the EU, in a move targeting Turkey.

Under the amendment tabled by Jean-Luc Warsmann – a deputy from the centre-right UMP party - holding a referendum would be obligatory to approve the EU accession of any country whose population surpasses five percent of the EU population (about 500 million people).

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  • The Senate is to vote on the text on 10 June (Photo: Sénat)

The provision was approved by the National Assembly with 48 to 21 votes.

The move appears to be targeted at EU candidate Turkey with its population of 70 million, whose accession to the 27-nation bloc is opposed by France and by the majority of UMP deputies.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy – a former leader of the UMP party – is himself an outspoken opponent of Ankara's EU bid, repeatedly stating that he does not think the country belongs to Europe.

The new text singling out the Eurasian state did not get the backing of all centre-right parliamentarians, however.

"Many eyes are fixed on us now - those of our compatriots, but also those of peoples from the world wondering whether we will really introduce in our constitution an arrangement targeting implicitly a particular country," said Bruno Le Maire (UMP), former prime minister Dominique de Villepin's chief of cabinet.

"[If the US put into its constitution an article] targeting Mexico, Columbia or any other country, then France – the country of human rights, would be shocked. I am now afraid that our neighbours might be [shocked] by this new arrangement," he added, before the vote took place.

The provision was widely criticised by the opposition, with socialist MP Rene Dosiere calling it "disgraceful and shameful."

"If in a referendum tomorrow the French say 'no' to Turkey's [EU] membership, while the 26 other countries say 'yes', what will remain of Europe?," his colleague Serge Blisko asked.

But Richard Maille (UMP), the co-author of the amendment, said that "with such populous countries" as "Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, and why not Algeria or Morocco" on the EU's borders, the least the government could do was to automatically consult the French people on future accessions.

Ukraine also affected

Besides Turkey, the amendment would also affect EU hopeful Ukraine with its some 46 million inhabitants.

A Ukrainian diplomat last week qualified the idea as "quite artificial", "unhelpful" and "unfair," saying that "the rules should be equal to everyone."

The whole text aiming to reform the French constitution will be voted upon by the National Assembly in first reading on 3 June, with the Socialist Party already saying it would vote against it.

The Senate will then vote on 10 June, before the two bodies gather for a congress meeting in July for a final decision to be taken by a three-fifths majority.

EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement

After the European Commission presented its Western Balkans strategy last week, with a view of possibly integrating the region by 2025, some EU ministers were less enthusiastic after their first discussion of the new policy.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

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