President Sarkozy’s determination to push forward

A rapid parliamentary ratification
Following the signature of the Lisbon Treaty in October 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear he wanted France to be one of the first European countries to ratify the treaty, ideally by December 2007. Such eagerness demonstrated Sarkozy’s commitment to a rapidly progressing EU.[1] President Sarkozy announced that the treaty would be ratified by the Parliament, and that the ratification process would begin immediately after the signature of the treaty on December 14th 2007, to be finalized at the latest by February 8th 2008. The first step towards the ratification, as stated by the Constitutional Council, is the adoption of a constitutional law, which modifies the French constitution. Such a law was presented on January 3rd 2008 to the Council of Ministers and adopted by the National Assembly and the Senate, convened in Congress on the 4th of February 2008. Three days later, both Chambers ratified the Lisbon Treaty with a massive majority.  
Struggle for a Referendum
The treaty ratification process has been the source of much debate in the country, particularly since France rejected by referendum the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in May 2005. Many actors and observers – both for and against the treaty – believed that another referendum was necessary, and saw in the parliamentary procedure a “democratic denial” – and even “high treason” to quote left-wing eurosceptic constitutionalist Anne-Marie Le Pourhiet.[2] According to a poll conducted in October 2007, 61% of the French people would like to have a new referendum (with 68% declaring themselves to be in favour of the treaty).[3] It has been argued by some newspapers that Sarkozy is trying to “avoid” a public debate on the question as much as possible. The parliamentary ratification seems final and without appeal, despite the fact that the arguments justifying this method of ratification over a referendum were not very convincing. It has been argued, for instance, that the treaty would not be ratified by a referendum because it is not a constitution. However, commentators have highlighted the similarities between the two texts, and even Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said that “the tools are exactly the same, only their order has been changed in the toolbox”.[4] “In my view, it is a rape, a political rape, it is a cause of civil war” declared Etienne Chouard, who was actively involved in the media and on the internet during the campaign for the referendum in 2005.[5] Different initiatives, such as online petitions, were initiated by associations and left-wing parties, requesting a referendum.[6]
The ratification process has been marked by the division of the Socialist Party – France’s largest opposition party. On the one hand, the Socialist Secretary General François Hollande clearly stands in favour of the new treaty. He is joined by other personalities such as Pierre Moscovici and Bernard Poignant, who have been advocating “a critical Yes, rather than constructive abstention”.[7] Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, on the other hand, commented that a parliamentary ratification would only be a “limited ratification, typical of a limited democracy.” Jean Marc Ayrault, leader of the Socialist group in the National Assembly, announced that his party would symbolically boycott the revision of the constitution needed before the ratification, because they stand in favour of a referendum. In his words, “the direct approval of the French people is necessary for this treaty. It will signify the solemn reconciliation of the French people with Europe”. However, the majority of the Socialist group will vote in favour of the ratification, and it is highly probable that the treaty will be ratified at the beginning of February 2008.
The “Committee of the Wise”: mixed reactions
The creation of a ‘Committee of the Wise’, an initiative announced by President Sarkozy, that would be in charge of contemplating the future of the EU, produced mitigated reactions amongst the French public. While it raised enthusiasm amongst several commentators who believed that Europe does need to think about its future, others considered this new structure to be reflective of a (so-called) EU democracy deficit. According to Sylvie Goulard, president of the European Movement – France, “Europeans today need and want more than just another committee to decide their future“. A French member of the Commission for constitutional matters at the Parliament claimed that: “there already is a committee of the wise in charge of thinking about the future of the EU; it is called the European Parliament”.[8]
In analyzing the president’s motivations for this initiative, a large proportion of observers implied that the president had a hidden agenda to slow down Turkey’s possible accession to the EU. However, the mandate of the ‘Committee of the Wise’ will in fact be limited, and will not deal with such issues as EU borders, institutional matters, or the next financial framework of the EU. According to Sylvie Goulard, this is an important issue. Ms. Goulard proclaimed that the Committee’s mandate should not be limited, and should certainly not exclude important topics such as borders or finance: “We believe, to the contrary, that the Committee of the Wise should discuss all issues, and make finance and borders its priorities. Europe needs oxygen”.[9] The nationalist party, Front National, added: “One might as well say that this new Committee Theodule will not speak of anything until 2010, when it makes its conclusions”.[10] For this very eurosceptic party, therefore, this committee would only be an “empty shelter“.
The choice of former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe González, as chair of the Committee generated mixed reactions. While some observers showed optimism that the group would be led by a “convinced Europhile“, others noted that González stands against Turkey’s accession to the EU, thus representing a good ally for Sarkozy.[11] The composition of this Committee is also criticised by the left-wing, which considers many of its members to be too liberal on economic issues.[12]

[1] Libération, 19/12/2007.

[2] Le Grand, 24/12/2007.

[3] Sondage CSA – le Parisien – Aujourd’hui en France.

[4] Le Monde, 26/10/2007.

[5] Libération, 22/10/2007.

[6] Among others: .
[7] Le Monde, 24/10/2007.

[8] Libération, 10/09/2007.

[9] Libération, 13/12/2007.

[10] Communiqué de Jean Marie Le Pen, 19/12/2007.

[11] Le Point, 14/12/2007.

[12] L’Humanité, 21/12/2007.