Europe on the agenda of France’s constitutional reform

French National Assembly [Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA-EFE]

France’s constitutional reform should allow for a more European dimension in French parliamentary work. reports.

Addressing a special joint session of both chambers of France’s parliament last July, President Emmanuel Macron outlined some of the proposals of his plan for a constitutional reform. They include: reducing by a third the number of MPs and senators, limiting the number of times a single person can be reelected, and introducing a partial proportional representation in parliamentary elections.

A European Dimension

The first draft of the reform draft hardly addresses possible improvements on European issues.

Europe’s place in the French decision-making process as a whole was the main subject of the conference “La nouvelle République”, organised by the Jean Jaurès Foundation and the think-tank “Décidons ensemble” on 12 February.

“When a subject is being debated at European level, we seldom hear about it at the national level, when very often it is the best moment to make our positions known,” said Fabienne Keller,  one of the senators for the Bas-Rhin département.

For the senator, the fact that the European dimension is poorly integrated into the legislative work of the French parliament is a major disadvantage, since EU law now accounts for a significant part of French legislation.

“On environmental issues (…) around 80% of the (French) body of law is decided at a European level. If we do not participate at that moment in time then it is too late,” said Fabienne Keller.

The Jean Jaurès Foundation expresses similar misgivings. “We must admit – and regret – European issues are still very much the poor relation in our parliamentary debates,” stated the Foundation in a report submitted last December to François de Rugy, the President of the National Assembly.

In the report entitled “30 propositions pour moderniser le Parlement,” the foundation presents its ideas to reform the French Constitution and puts forward two ways to take into account more effectively European issues in the work of France’s parliament.

 Joint sessions with MEPs 

The report also suggests including MEPs into joint sessions, which would mean making them vote with members of the National Assembly and the Senate on constitutional reform.

Moreover, the report also advocates strengthening the European Affairs Committees of both chambers by making them permanent. The report proposes giving “ greater legitimacy to the parliamentary European Affairs Committees,” which, it argues, would help to give a greater European orientation to parliamentary debates in France.

According to Armel  Le Divellec, lecturer in public law at the University of Panthéon-Assas, it would be better to “give a more European slant to all the parliamentary committees”. This would mean a follow-up by each subject-based committee of the European legislation of concern to it, as well as more regular exchanges between French and European MPs.

“Time also needs to be found for France’s parliamentarians to familiarise themselves with the European Parliaments’ work (…) for practical reasons this is often not the case”, he added.

Dominique Raimbourg, a former chairman of the parliamentary legislative committee, offers an alternative suggestion and supports the idea of having several rapporteurs for each draft law (compared to one now).

One of the rapporteurs would be specifically responsible for maintaining communications between the Institutions and France and facilitating the French parliamentarians’ understanding of the specific “workings” and “language” of the EU.

For now, the draft constitutional reform is still under discussion. The government should present the bill in spring in order for both chambers of parliament to vote by the summer. It will need to be approved by three-fifths of MPs and senators.

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