Monday, June 02, 2008

Constitutional Reforms - Update

Recently I reported that the French National Assembly was discussing and re-writing a series of proposals on institutional reform. These reforms, if turned into law, would be added to the French Constitution and could affect the scope and limitations of presidential power, as well as the right of the people to referendums on topics of national interest and on the admission of new countries to the EU, particularly Turkey.

However nationalists take issue with the way these two referendums have been introduced, and suggest that none of it amounts to anything substantive.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
dismisses the popular referendum:

Contrary to what we have been led to believe, the National Assembly did not vote to institute a referendum
that would be initiated by the people. The article that was adopted stipulates that a referendum "can be organized through the initiative of one fifth of the members of Parliament, backed by one tenth of the registered voters."

In other words the people do not initiate the referendum, the members of Parliament do. At least 184 deputies and senators would have to draw up a proposal and ask for the support of 4.5 million voters, for a referendum to be held.

The right to initiate is therefore locked in by the parties of the Establishment.

Note: The parties in question are the UMP and the PS (Socialist Party). However, wouldn't chaos result if the people, en masse and not organized, tried to hold a referendum? I know very little about this, but it seems that some structure is necessary.

What Le Pen is saying, though, is that no nationalist party can get its ideas put into practice through referendums. Both the UMP and the PS would block it. Whereas the smaller left-wing parties, acting through either the PS or the UMP are in a better position to get what they want.

Now, regarding the question of new admissions to the EU, Yves Daoudal does not like the amendment that was just adopted. In my previous post I mentioned that at the last minute an amendment was introduced that would render obligatory a referendum on the admission to the EU of any country whose population exceeded 5% of the total population of the EU. I indicated that this automatically meant Turkey but that the language of the amendment was controversial, because it "pointed the finger at Turkey". Notwithstanding all of that, I still thought the amendment did more good than harm. Daoudal puts it into a different perspective (a reminder that Chirac had originally added the amendment to the Constitution in 2005, and that Sarkozy recently had it removed without consulting the Parliament):

The deputies voted for the amendment, introduced by Jean-Luc Warsmann, (...) that would write into the French Constitution the obligation to hold a referendum before any country whose population is greater than 5% of that of the EU could be admitted to the Union.

When Chirac had the referendum requirement added to the Constitution, it covered ANY new membership. And while it was clearly introduced to reassure the French people on the question of Turkey, the language of the law was not controversial.

This time, Turkey is singled out, hypocritically, but in a very clear manner. It is shameful for the Constitution and abject in terms of diplomacy.

Has not the president of the French Republic affirmed many times over that Turkey has no place in the European Union, and did he not promise to freeze negotiations? Then he should do as he promised and the problem is solved. Honestly. (...)

Le Figaro, in its series of articles on the reforms, reminds us that the deputies have been agonizing over what language to use for several weeks. Nobody wanted to name Turkey overtly:

The UMP spokesman considered several formulations: "a country that is not geographically in Europe," "a country whose territory is not primarily on the European continent," and "a country whose capital is not in Europe."

Independent deputy Nicolas Dupont-Aignan defended the idea of "a country with more than 10 million inhabitants."

Why didn't the deputies simply keep Chirac's original amendment? Because Angela Merkel wants the Balkan countries of Bosnia and Albania to be admitted to the EU without having to endure a French referendum. Therefore, the deputies had to concoct an amendment that targeted Turkey, without naming it, but at the same time relieved the Balkan countries of the fear of a French rejection.

Now we see why it's a controversial amendment, and why it could fail, especially in view of the fact that most socialist and some UMP parliamentarians, WANT Turkey in the EU.

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