13th Apr 2024

France's Royal wants new EU constitution referendum

Segolene Royal, the socialist candidate to become France's next president, has said she is in favour of holding a new referendum on a revised EU constitution in 2009, proposing to make the treaty more attractive to the French by attaching a social declaration.

"I want the French people to be consulted once again in a referendum in 2009," Ms Royal said after meeting Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday (17 January), according to press reports.

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"My idea is that this referendum would take place at the same time as the European elections," she indicated.

Wednesday's remarks, made ahead of the French presidential elections with first and second rounds in April and May, distance Ms Royal from her main centre-right rival for the presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Sarkozy has called for a simplified mini-treaty for the EU containing key elements of the constitution, which could be ratified by the French parliament without a referendum.

By contrast, Ms Royal said a new version of the text should add a fresh social declaration on workers' rights and public services, in order to avoid a repetition of the 2005 referendum when almost 55 percent of French voters rejected the charter.

"I do not want the French to punish the European countries which have already expressed themselves [on the constitution]. What I wish is that there is a social aspect and that the rights of workers are taken into consideration in Europe," she said.

Without being specific about the content of the proposed declaration, she said that "with this, I think that the French people will regain confidence and I will be able to bring them along, those who voted yes and those who voted no."

"What they want is not less Europe, but a Europe which will better protect social rights, fundamental freedoms and progress for all."

Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker said he backed the idea of attaching a social declaration to the EU constitution, explaining that it could contain principles like a minimum wage - the level of which would be up to national governments - and minimum lay-off standards.

The idea of a social declaration is likely to be viewed with scepticism by free market-oriented states like the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland which have put ratification of the constitution on ice.


But it is likely to be backed by German chancellor Angela Merkel who last year proposed to add a social declaration to the constitutional treaty herself, vowing to keep most of the charter's existing text unchanged.

Ms Merkel is however likely to be less happy by Ms Royal's push for a second French referendum, which carries the risk of a second French "no" and which complicates Germany's main EU presidency goal of reaching a quick deal on a revised constitution.

Ms Royal admitted that a new referendum is risky, saying "I am prepared to take political risks in this matter...and explain to the French that if Europe wants to stand on its feet, we have the task of giving it the institutional means to function."

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