France ratifies EU treaty
By Honor Mahony
The French parliament has approved the new EU treaty, making France the first of the large member states to ratify the document and drawing a line under the shock 'No' vote of almost three years ago when French voters rejected the original EU constitution.
Both the national assembly (336 in favour and 52 against) on Thursday (7 February) and the senate (265 in favour, 42 against and 13 abstentions) on Friday voted strongly in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, a reworking of the rejected constitution containing most of its innovations.
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Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet told parliament on Thursday that ratification was a "historic moment for France" while foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said "this treaty deserves to be appreciated for its value: as an important moment in the construction of the European ideal."
"This is excellent news, a great victory for France which has gone from being the country holding up Europe to being the one that pulled Europe out of gridlock," said government spokesman David Martinon.
The socialists and their allies who had criticised Mr Sarkozy for choosing the parliamentary rather than the referendum route, nonetheless largely voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty.
Vincent Peillon, socialist MEP, was one of the politicians who advocated a 'no' to the old EU constitution.
He explained to La Croix daily on Thursday, ahead of the vote, that he was voting in favour of its replacement, the Lisbon Treaty, because "it is neither about the same text or the same context."
Mr Peillon points out that the third part of the EU constitution "that constitutionalised the liberal policies of the European Union and made free and undistorted competition an objective of the Union" no longer exists.
While admitting that the socialist position is "difficult" to understand, Mr Peillon said that "to say 'no' again would cut us off from our European allies and block Europe."
The French ratification, which has to be formally signed and sealed by president Nicolas Sarkozy, makes France the fifth country after Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Romania to approve the treaty.
The treaty introduces a powerful foreign policy chief, a permanent president of the European Council and gives greater legislative powers to the European Parliament. It must be ratified by all 27 member states to come into force.
Ratification is expected to take place through the year. Germany plans to ratify in June while others such as Spain will follow suit later in the year. Only Ireland has pledged to have a referendum
Meanwhile, the ratification saga continues in Slovakia. Its treaty approval process has become tangled up in a separate dispute between government and opposition parties over a media bill, which the opposition say is too restrictive.
The government needs the opposition to secure approval of the treaty. An attempt to resolve the issue failed on Thursday, and Slovak media reports now suggest that the parliamentary vote on the treaty has been postponed indefinitely.