FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy offered last-minute sweeteners to opposition legislators to try and persuade them to pass a constitutional reform bill that would give new powers to parliament.
The opposition Socialist party is calling for a “no” vote on the bill, which has divided the ruling UMP party, and it is uncertain whether it can garner support from three-fifths of all legislators as required for it to pass into law.
“I hope that those Socialists who are sincere will understand that it would be ridiculous to vote against a reform they have been dreaming about for years without ever enacting it,” Sarkozy said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.
He said his reform would create an “exemplary democracy” by giving parliament new oversight functions to counter-balance the presidentâ€™s enormous powers.
The bill would set a two-term limit for presidents, subject certain presidential appointments to approval by parliamentary commissions, and allow parliament to set half of its own agenda instead of the government deciding the entire programme.
The Socialists say the bill does not go far enough and have said they would only support it if there were a parallel reform of the voting system for the Senate, the upper chamber. The ruling party, which benefits from the system, has rejected this.
Senators are elected by a complex collegiate system that has effectively made it impossible for the left to win a majority of seats even when it is in power. The right has had a majority in the Senate since the constitution came into force in 1958. Sarkozy made no concessions on the issue of the Senate in his Le Monde interview, but he did offer other carrots.
“I am in favour of equal speaking time for the majority and the opposition during parliamentary debates, especially on current affairs,” he said.
He said he also favoured allowing opposition legislators to create parliamentary commissions of inquiry and lowering the threshold for them to create a formal parliamentary group to 15 members from 20 at present.
“I promise that there will be guarantees allowing the opposition to respond every time the president makes public comments on domestic politics,” Sarkozy said. â€“â€“ Reuters.