(AFP) – Jul 16, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — The French Senate on Thursday gave the green light to reform bills backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy to overhaul the constitution, opening the path for final approval by both houses of parliament.
Senators voted 162 to 125, with the governing parties in favour and the opposition of Socialists, Communists and Greens opposed to the reform package.
The 331 members of the Senate and 577 deputies of the lower-house National Assembly will now meet in Versailles, west of Paris, for a so-called congress opening on Monday.
Sarkozy championed the bill, which is to boost the powers of parliament, set a two-term limit for presidents and allow the head of state to defend his policies before parliament.
"If this reform fails, it will be a failure for everyone, first and foremost for democracy, for parliament and for the rights of citizens," Sarkozy has warned in an interview to Le Monde newspaper.
To become law the text requires final approval from three fifths of lawmakers at the special meeting of both houses of parliament, meaning that Sarkozy will need support across party lines.
Sarkozy offered to grant the Socialist opposition a right to respond on television to presidential addresses and guarantee equal time for the opposition and the majority in parliamentary debates.
The conservative leader intended the wide-ranging reform of the 1958 French constitution to make the head of state more accountable to lawmakers and to the public.
Sarkozy had campaigned on a pledge to bolster parliament's powers, giving it greater oversight authority in making appointments to public office, for example.
But he also wants to scrap a provision that bars the head of state from addressing parliament to preserve the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative.
"I hope that all sincere Socialists will understand that it would be somewhat ridiculous to vote against a reform that they have been dreaming about," said Sarkozy.
Socialist Jack Lang, a member of a commission that laid the groundwork for the institutional reform, had urged Sarkozy in a newspaper commentary this week to offer concessions and address the opposition's concerns.
The Socialist opposition had asked for guarantees of equal time to counterbalance the president's new right to address the parliament.
But it is also demanding a change to the election of senators, who are chosen by local councillors and deputies, with some Socialists seeking a system of proportional representation.
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