Hollande party shows first signs of dissent on fiscal treaty


A GROUP of French Socialist Party deputies has threatened to vote against the EU fiscal treaty in parliament, revealing the first sign of dissent in the party over Europe since François Hollande won the presidency.

The deputies, representing the ruling party’s left wing, have criticised the treaty’s focus on austerity and plan to table a document outlining their concerns at the party’s annual congress in October.

Mr Hollande pledged during the presidential campaign earlier this year to reject the treaty, which sets tight limits on national deficits and debts, unless measures to spur economic growth were added to it. He has since said a growth pact agreed by EU leaders in June meets his demands, and the treaty is due to be put to parliament in September.

“We’re discussing it among ourselves,” said Barbara Romagnan, a socialist member of the lower house, “but if it remains underlaid by the same logic, which will bring us to a policy of austerity, I don’t think we’ll be able to vote for it.”

The left-wing group, aligned to government minister Benoit Hamon, said they had the support of 23 deputies from the SPD in Germany.

“Co-signing our contribution [to the party congress] with 23 deputies who have voted against the treaty in Germany gives an indication of what we want to do,” said Jérome Guedj, another French socialist.

Pockets of internal resistance to the treaty are unlikely to derail Mr Hollande’s hopes of ratifying the deal in the autumn, but the Socialist Party has been acutely sensitive to divisions over Europe since its fractious debates on the European constitution in 2005.

By raising doubts about the treaty, the party’s left wing may be positioning itself for the domestic debate about cutbacks in public spending in the run-up to a difficult budget in the autumn.

Referring to the most high-profile member of the left-wing current, Mr Hamon, prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “He is a member of the government. I hope that when we table a motion to members [at the congress], we will all be united in signing up to the work the left wishes to undertake for the country.”

The party’s first secretary, Martine Aubry, has hinted she may stand down at the congress in October but Mr Hamon, an unsuccessful candidate when Ms Aubry was elected to the post in 2008, has indicated he will not run this time.

Mr Hollande recently referred the fiscal treaty to France’s constitutional council to establish whether one of the text’s major provisions – a rule that requires states to balance their budgets – can be enacted without a change to the constitution.

A constitutional change requires either a referendum or approval by a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament. In the latter scenario, the socialists would need the support of the right-wing UMP to carry the vote.

Opinion polls suggest French public opinion is behind the treaty. According to an OpinionWay survey last week, 53 per cent of people would vote Yes if the text were put to a referendum, while 20 per cent would vote No.