Tuesday, 24 June 2008

French Senate votes to scrap referendum on EU accession

The French Senate today voted to remove the constitutional requirement from France’s Constitution that any further enlargement of the EU following the entry of a new country would be put to a referendum in France.

The new law is expected to be voted on 7 July when both houses of the French parliament meet in a joint Congress just as France takes over the EU Council Presidency for the next six months until the end of December. A three fifths majority is needed to approve the law.

Article 88-5 of the French Constitution states that “Any Government Bill authorising the ratification of a Treaty pertaining to the accession of a State to the European Union and to the European Communities shall be submitted to referendum by the President of the Republic”. This was introduced in 2005 by the former French President, Jacques Chirac in an attempt to reassure French public opinion about their concerns over any further EU enlargement (and in particular the possibility of Turkey joining the EU) in the run-up to the French referendum on the EU Constitution, which in the end was still rejected.

The vote in the French Senate is part of a broader package of constitutional reforms put forward by the French government in April. The draft bill on institutional reform contains an article deleting all references to the requirement that referenda must be held each time a new country joins the EU. At the end of May the French National Assembly voted to retain this measure.

I was chatting the other day with one of the officials in the French National Assembly about this requirement who told me that this was aimed at any candidate country whose population exceeds 5% of the total EU population. Indeed, this was specifically, if not overtly, targeted at Turkey and to a much lesser extent Ukraine. Since Scotland falls far short of the 5% population limit, he said we would be spared the referendum.

Whenever I’ve been in France, as soon as I mention I’m Scottish that’s it, the response is usually how much they like the Scots, Scotland and the tartan army even when we managed to beat France during the Euro 2008 qualifiers last autumn.

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