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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sprint final pour décrocher le référendum

by Sébastien Crépel

Last Chance For A Referendum On The European Treaty

Translated Thursday 17 January 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

Europe. The ratification of the Lisbon treaty begins today. The left has twenty days before the French congress to block ratification and permit the people to vote on the treaty.

Today will be the first test for the supporters of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. This afternoon the French National Assembly will begin the parliamentary process of ratifying the treaty that the 27 European Union heads of state signed in Lisbon on December 13, 2007. The treaty contains 90% of the super-free trade European constitution, which the French rejected in 2005. In the morning, the French deputies are to vote on a Communist bill aimed at making the holding of a referendum a constitutional obligation for the adoption of any measure previously put to a referendum.

Sarkozy wants to put an end to all discussion.

Nicolas Sarkozy has made one thing perfectly clear: He wants France to be the first country to ratify the treaty so as to redeem the “no” vote cast by 54.7% of the French voters in the 2005 referendum. The French president refers back to his presidential campaign promise to justify having just parliament adopt a “mini-treaty” and considering the debate on holding a referendum to be over. But his opponents, the advocates of democratic consultation, are not laying down their arms. The petition in favor of holding a referendum, which is on the Website “nousvoulonsunreferendum.eu,” has been signed by 66,000 people, including 109 left-wing legislators, who are calling on their colleagues to “impose a referendum by voting against this amendment to the French constitution.” On February 4, demonstrations in favor of a referendum are to be held to put pressure on the elected officials who will meet in congress in Versailles on that day.

The majority of the French want a referendum, according to several opinion polls published in the Fall. According to a CSA poll done for the Parisien at the end of October, 61% of the French wanted a referendum (a figure that rose to 82% of those who voted “no” in the last referendum); while a Louis Harris poll for the Financial Times put it as high as 63%. According to the Louis Harris poll, the people in the other countries of Europe also want a referendum. This is a factor that must be taken into account, not only by the conservative majority in the French parliament, but also by some on the left, who should remember the setback they suffered in 2005, when left-wing voters massively rejected the support that the majority of the Socialist Party gave to the European Constitution. In 2005, 67% of those who defined themselves as left-wingers voted “no” in 2005 according to a SOFRES opinion poll, with 59% of Socialist Party sympathizers voting no.

The left must face up to its responsibilities.

Officially, everyone in the opposition favors a referendum. Moreover, all of the left-wing legislators will vote the Communist bill that was debated in the Gauche démocrate et républicaine group’s parliamentary “niche” (the “niche” is the session of parliament over which a parliamentary group has the right to preside). But obtaining agreement on a common position regarding the bill to amend the French constitution is proving to be quite another matter. Although the Communist and Republican deputies will unanimously vote against the amendment, which is coherent with their demand for a referendum, the Socialists (see article opposite) are trapped in a difficult situation. On the one hand, a majority of the Socialist Party leadership approves of the content of the Lisbon treaty. Now, during the presidential election campaign, the Socialist Party and its candidate, Ségolène Royal, undertook to put any new treaty to a referendum, as their voters desired. Today, the Socialist Party wants clearly to distance itself from Nicolas Sarkozy, without however abandoning the treaty. Hence the idea of “boycotting” the Versailles congress. This is a position that is not accepted by some Socialist Party legislators, who see it as a way of avoiding responsibility.

A political and not a judicial problem.

According to Socialist politician Jean-Marc Ayrault’s inner circle, a vote against amending the French constitution will not make it possible to put the treaty to a referendum, but will amount to rejection of the treaty. However, constitutional expert Dominique Rousseau says that this argument is “judicially incorrect.” "If the three-fifths majority, which is necessary for the adoption of a constitutional amendment, is not obtained, the French president could still have the treaty adopted by referendum,” he explained. “Rejection by the French congress will not kill the Lisbon treaty.” Consequently, the problem is not judicial but political: avoiding recourse to a referendum was indeed the condition agreed upon by the European authorities and the member states (except Ireland, whose constitution requires a referendum) so as to avoid any new setback. This is a condition to which all the Socialist governments in Europe have agreed, and this makes the French Socialist Party a black sheep among the socialist parties of Europe.

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