24th Sep 2023

Paris seeks to drop enlargement referendums clause

The idea that future EU enlargements should be submitted to a popular vote in France has been dropped in a draft bill aimed at reforming the country's constitution.

According to the bill submitted by the French government on Wednesday (19 December), Paris' ratification of new EU memberships could be done either by popular vote or by the French "Congress" - a body comprising the country's national assembly and the senate - which would have to approve it by a three-fifths majority.

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  • The referendum idea was initially introduced to reassure French public opinion ahead of a vote on the EU constitutional treaty (Photo: EUobserver)

It will be up to the President of the Republic to decide on the method of ratification.

The draft bill follows the recommendations of a 180-page long report prepared by the so-called Balladur committee – a high-level committee on institutional reform set up by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and released in October.

Under the committee's proposal, "any government bill authorising the ratification of a treaty related to the accession of a state to the European Union" could be ratified either by referendum, or by the Congress.

The proposal would cancel a clause introduced into the French constitution in 2005 under then president Jacques Chirac, which was to make it compulsory to submit all future EU accessions to a referendum - except the entry of Croatia which could take place by 2009 and which was exempted from the clause.

Mr Chirac's constitutional amendment was particularly targeted at Turkey, in a bid to reassure French public opinion on enlargement and increase the chances of a positive vote in the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty.

Apart from Turkey however, it would also have affected all Western Balkan countries – aside from Croatia - which are hoping to join the EU in the near future.

While Mr Sarkozy is himself a staunch opponent to possible Turkish membership of the 27-nation bloc, he has made no secret of his desire to reform much of what his predecessor had done.

He is also in favour of increasing the powers of the parliament – and of the president's accountability to the parliament.

Another controversial change introduced by the draft bill would make it possible for French presidents to address parliament – they have been banned from both the National Assembly and the Senate buildings since 1873.

The socialist opposition has already reacted against this provision saying it would violate the separation of powers, while the right-wing Movement for France has strongly attacked the idea to drop the referendum on future enlargements, in particular concerning Turkey.

The draft document is expected to be submitted to parliament by the end of January, but a final vote is not expected before the French municipal elections in March, according to French news agency AFP.

In order for it to be passed, it would have to be approved by a three-fifths majority in the French Congress.

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