French government warns opponents on EU treaty delay

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2011 6:24 PM
French government warns opponents on EU treaty delay

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France's imminent election campaign could throw the newly agreed EU plan for budget policy coordination into disarray, the French budget minister said on Sunday, warning that President Nicolas Sarkozy's opponents may stall necessary legislation.

"Speed is vital to restore confidence," Valerie Pecresse told Europe 1 radio. "France has to set the example. It has been at the origin of this treaty with Germany and it would be a paradox if it was blocked for three months because there is a presidential election. This is a call for national unity."

Socialist Francois Hollande, leading the challenge to the Sarkozy at April's presidential election, opposes Sarkozy's proposal to write a requirement to balance the state budget - a so-called "golden rule" - into France's constitution.

Under the pact agreed by EU leaders Friday, governments will have to enact such legislation. But Hollande last week called Sarkozy's draft "golden rule" for France flawed and said debate should be postponed until after the elections.

Without Socialist support, the center-right government lacks a two-thirds parliamentary majority to amend the constitution.

Even before the EU summit, competing visions for binding future French governments into fiscal rigour had been developing into a potential source of conflict in the campaign. The Socialists, who have not won a presidential election since 1988, are keen to avoid being branded a party of budgetary laxity.

Instead, they have argued that Sarkozy's current plan is too weak to force future government action. They have repeatedly pledged to vote it down.

Ex-Europe Minister Elisabeth Guigou, who is preparing Hollande's 2012 manifesto, labelled the government's push for a golden rule vote a "grotesque political trap."

She said a budget-balancing rule already existed in European treaties for the last 20 years and in the French constitution since 2008.

"There is no reason that we would accept to go to a (special) parliamentary congress to modify the constitution again," Guigou said in a televised debate with Finance Minister Francois Baroin.

Pecresse, who is also the government spokeswoman, had earlier urged the Socialist party to think again in light of the urgency of stemming a loss of investor confidence in European government debt and the euro single currency:

"We need to ratify this accord as quickly as possible," Pecresse said. "Can you imagine a European treaty that is ready in March, then a May election and a Socialist party that isolates itself from other European socialist parties saying it refused to adopt it because there is a presidential election?"

(Reporting By John Irish and Sophie Louet; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)