French Socialists and Europe: YES (but with none of the responsability!)

Article published on Jan. 20, 2008
Article published on Jan. 20, 2008
Within the French Socialist Party, there is an ever increasing lack of support for Nicolas Sarkozy and his follow through with his takeover bid. Yet the more this happens, the less party politics seem to be followed… especially where Europe is concerned.

Following the decision last November by national headquarters of the Parti Socialiste to accept the Treaty of Lisbon, it was readily thought that the number one party of the French right would be rid of its European problem, despite adamant cries from staunch non-ists, claiming treason, a real Coup d’Etat! Not very original!

You could have just imagined the well-presented Socialist family, catching the RER C to Versailles to vote (elections forecast for 4th February for both the French National Assembly and the French Senate) on constitutional reforms before the ratification of the new European treaty.

Or maybe not… On Tuesday, 8th January, the President of the French Socialist Party, Jean-Marc Ayrault stated that to him it appeared “impossible for us (Socialist Members of Parliament) to participate in the preliminary review process of the Constitution when we advocate the referendum route instead of the parliamentary one”. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Mayor of Nantes made a bit of a gaffe… but not because of his approach, the Secretary General of the Parti Socialiste Francois Hollande affirms.

The need to vote

Last November, when the national headquarters of the Parti Socialiste confirmed their support for the new treaty, they had not yet decided on whether to attend the joint meeting or not; a decision tainted by hypocrisy, on the part of the leaders of the Parti Socialiste. Not attending the vote will not bring about a France-wide referendum the following weekend. Au contraire! Votes cast during the joint meeting between the two houses of the French Parliament, it would seem, do not depend on numerical statistics, but rather on votes cast by persons present. Therefore, not attending is tantamount to giving approval. And if they do not attend, how do the Socialists expect to pull a referendum out of their hat? Voting during the congrès does not come down to winning a simple majority share, but rather you need a majority equalling three fifths. On the other-hand, the UMP party need to strengthen their presence, as across both the Senate and the National Assembly, the Presidential party itself does not have the 60% required.

UMP: 55.46 % and 46.8% (National Assembly and Senate)

PS: 33.36% and 29.3% (National Assembly and Senate)

The Socialists cannot block the ratification process on their own, but if they succeed in rallying troops from other parties, such as the Green Party, the Communists, Independent parties, and even some from the majority (it is always good to have some nationalists in the majority party), it is possible that they’ll have the referendum the so desperately desire, which could shake the whole of Europe to its very core…

This is exactly what the French Right have been talking about. For them, this would signal nothing less than an offer of indirect support for the ratification of the treaty; a great, big YES (but with none of the responsibility). “There is only one way of making sure that our official demands regarding the referendum succeed (…), that popular nationalism isn’t ridiculed:  oppose the preliminary constitutional review process”; so said, Henri Emmanuelli in a letter of address to his party colleagues. “Any other position is artificial, to say the least”.

Who does what?

Is there still an issue surrounding the voting for the treaty itself? Is it still a YES like in November or have things changed? “However, when the ratification process comes around, we will assume the same responsibility as every other European”. What does that mean? YES, yes, yes, yes! However, Jean-Marc Ayrault, in his capacity as a free-thinker and democrat, made clear that the “freedom to vote however one chooses” will be in full force.

A large proportion of Socialist MPs are now ready to ratify a text, without the referendum they have so desperately fought for.

A last ditch attempt?

On 7th February, along with the support from the Green Party and the Communists, the Socialists have planned to put forward a motion to the National Assembly in support of a referendum, albeit with no chance of getting approval; given the UMP have the majority. All that remains is to see how Socialist MPs will vote on 15th January. Seen as how each chamber must have already approved the text individually before the joint meeting, with the 15th January be a last ditch attempt for the elected Socialists?

Jean-Sébastien LefebvreTranslation : Neil Saddington