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To ratify the “fiscal pact”, France will row

(credit: Nauticexpo)

(BRUXELLES2) It's a rather taboo subject in European aisles. And when you put the question to a French diplomat, the answer suddenly becomes very evasive. Usually not stingy with telling us about the subtleties or constitutional difficulties of such and such a country (Denmark, Finland...), an interlocutor can suddenly wallow in a prudent silence or get away with a humorous pirouette when two questions: how and when will France ratify the European treaty - called the "Fiscal Pact" whose signature is scheduled for the European summit on 1 and 2 March -? The only sure answer is: not before the summer and the results of the two elections (presidential and legislative). The rest is more vague.

By scratching a little, we understand the reasons for this sudden shyness. Because the French position today is very, very fragile. The new European text may well not find the way to ratification in France. And France could even be one of the first countries - with Ireland - to come up against the "ratification" stage. A difficulty which does not depend only on the result of the current elections - as the President of the Republic seems to assert - but quite simply stems from the existing political balance of power. Explanations...

A situation of quasi-cohabitation

The Left (Socialists, Communists, Ecologists) is opposed to the inclusion of a "golden rule" - balanced budget, annual deficit below 0,5% of GDP or 1% if the debt is below 60 % - in the Constitution, as provided for in the "Budgetary Compact", and wants the renegotiation of this Treaty. She holds a majority, relative, in the Senate - the French upper house. And this room is not subject to renewal at the next elections. There is in fact a period of quasi-cohabitation which requires certain compromises if the laws are to be adopted. If the left maintains its position of not approving this fiscal pact, the future government may not be able to honor the signature of the “budgetary pact” by the current government, unless it convinces a clear minority of the “refractory”. Other alternatives could have been considered. But they seem - as they stand - difficult to put into practice, according to the information gathered.

1st alternative - Do not modify the Constitution

The Budget Pact provides for the transcription of the golden rule in the Constitution or in a provision with "identical" value. A provision which mainly targets countries with an unwritten constitutional tradition or with a complex constitutional organization (imposing the referendum for the modification of the Constitution). It does not apply, a priori, to France which has a fairly extensive written constitutionalist tradition.

An alternative has been examined by the French authorities: to transcribe this rule not in the Constitution but in an Organic Law. " This hypothesis has been studied in detail. But today it has fallen. One cannot proceed by an organic law “Said a senior French official in front of a few journalists, including B2. Too imprecise, too disrespectful of the obligation to transpose.

2nd alternative - Amend the Constitution after ratification

Another possibility could be to ratify the Treaty and then modify the Constitution. The text of the Treaty also leaves a period of one year to transpose this rule. However, in France, the ratification of a Treaty which implies the modification of the Constitution must first be done by the modification of this text before the ratification can come into play. This provision was confirmed to me by a French diplomat, apparently well informed :-).

3rd alternative - Amend the Constitution by referendum

This solution is quite possible, although the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has rejected it. But the promises before the elections... do not automatically commit the following ones. And anyway, for there to be a referendum - " the draft or proposed revision must be (...) voted on by both assemblies in identical terms », according to article 89 of the Constitution. We therefore come up against, here too, the obstacle of the senatorial majority, with an additional risk: that the population will reject the treaty (a very real risk. There are few political leaders who wish to try the adventure of 2005 again .

The Last Possibility - Amending the Constitution by Meeting of Congress

The only remaining solution is therefore the modification of the Constitution by the Congress (meeting of the National Assembly and the Senate). For this, a majority of 3/5ths of the "present" delegates is needed. Abstentions and absences are therefore not counted. But here again the project/proposal for revision must be voted on “ by the two assemblies in identical terms ". And here again, you have to reckon with the senatorial majority. In the state of forces, according to a quick count - assuming that each group has a strict voting discipline - between thirty and forty votes are missing for the Treaty to pass.

It remains to be seen whether, after the elections, this balance will remain. What seems certain is that whatever the results, the large lead available to the UMP in the National Assembly (absolute majority and more than 100 seats ahead of the next group) will be difficult to reproduce. The key to ratification is therefore the Socialists who have it. Will they maintain their position of rejection of the "fiscal compact"? Or will they change their minds, either because they arrive in a situation of governmental responsibility, or because they have to digest defeat. This is apparently the bet made by the current majority grouped around Nicolas Sarkozy. But nothing is less certain. And the various "pressures" coming from the European Commission on the various Member States do not influence a change of position. In any case, the bet is risky. On two counts...

A definite risk

As explained by this senior French official met in Brussels with some journalists, if we do not ratify this treaty, " France will be discredited, its signature will be disavowed, Europe will be destabilized.  "And to specify:" The lull that we see today does not come by chance, it is the result of the European stability mechanism, of the golden rule. This will be a very negative message sent to European construction and to the financial markets which will be able to resume their speculative game. ».

Keep reason! France's signature has a very relative value; it will not prevent the new Treaty from entering into force. Its signatories have indeed (wisely) provided for the possibility of non-ratification in one or more countries. The new treaty is scheduled to enter into force on the 12th signature by one of the 17 member countries of the Euro Zone. Simply the treaty will not be applicable in France. Which thus singularly reduces the risk but also the interest of such a text. There is a certain chance that some Member States, seeing the French situation, are not in a hurry to ratify the text either. This risks a general slowdown in ratification...

Comment: Not ratifying the "Fiscal Pact" is therefore certainly taking a serious risk. But signing without having the capacity to be able to ratify is equally so. It would have been quite logical for the various majority parties to agree on a position of "negotiation" rather than letting go of a situation in this way. This attitude, logical in many countries accustomed to governmental negotiation, simply does not seem obvious in France.

Read also: The draft euro zone treaty is written. Text and some comments

• Article 89 Constitution: The draft or proposed revision must be (...) voted on by the two assemblies in identical terms. The revision is final after being approved by referendum. However, the draft revision is not presented to a referendum when the President of the Republic decides to submit it to Parliament convened in Congress; in this case, the draft revision is only approved if it receives a majority of three-fifths of the votes cast. The office of the Congress is that of the National Assembly.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

2 thoughts on “To ratify the “fiscal pact”, France will row"

  • There is another solution...

    We can modify the organic law relating to finance laws (LOLF) which is a law with reinforced value, the ignorance of which can be sanctioned by the Constitutional Council... which allows (even if it is legally false) to say that the LOLF is political has the same value as the 1958 Constitution...

    A perverse spirit could foresee that the Parliament adopts a budget in conformity with the objectives of the international agreements in force (in short one does not name the thing especially) according to the current methods.

    If the Parliament wants to disregard these Treaties, a special qualified majority of 4/5 is required (so that the Constitution is not disregarded, the Parliament remains Sovereign, the left is happy because the Parliament does what it wants)…

    But experience shows that a majority of 4/5 imposes a consensus between majority and opposition in each chamber. Impossible to obtain without very special cases...

    CQFD !!!

    It can be pointed out that ratification is not obligatory but renegotiation is TOTALLY excluded. This has been a constant point of French foreign policy since 1870, and a golden rule of European diplomacy.
    Undermining this principle would be tantamount to accepting that the British could scuttle the acquis communautaire. No responsible political leader would do that (but promising it is another thing!)…

    : )

    • Nicolas Gros Verheyde

      The organic law hypothesis was studied by the government and rejected as impracticable

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