France scraps referendum on Turkey’s EU bid

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The French Senate voted on Tuesday (24 June) to drop a constitutional requirement to hold a popular vote before a new country can enter the EU, removing a key irritant in its relations with Turkey.

The measure is part of a broader reform package aimed at modernising French institutions currently on its way through Parliament. It was adopted by 297 votes in favour and just seven against.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French EU affairs minister, warned senators of the damaging consequences the measure has already had on Franco-Turkish relations, speaking before the vote of a risk of “rupture” with Ankara. 

The French Constitution requires that a referendum be held prior to a country’s EU accession if it represents more than 5% of the overall EU population. 

The amendment was introduced in 2005 under former President Jacques Chirac, in a move designed to ensure that sceptical French voters get a say on Turkey’s EU accession bid.

The new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has made no secret of his opposition to Turkey’s EU entry. But he recently sided with Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who argued that the constitutional provision would also make it more difficult for other countries to join. 

“The 5% have already made a lot of damage down there for France’s image,” commented Jean-Pierre Sueur, a Socialist senator quoted by Le Monde. Hubert Haenel, a senator from the ruling centre-right UMP party, said the Constitution was “not the place to address individual cases”.

The “referendum lock” contained in article 88-5 of the French Constitution will be lifted entirely when both houses of Parliament adopt the law at a Congress meeting on 7 July. The move is likely to be presented as a symbolic gesture from France just days after it assumes the rotating EU Presidency on 1 July.

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