Twenty years ago, on the 20th of September 1992 exactly, Frenchs went to polling stations to ratify the Treaty on European Union also known as Maastricht Treaty. The text provoked debates and passions between the ones who were in favour and the ones who were opposed within the left and the right of the political spectrum. At the end of this important debate for European integration, French voters approved the Treaty with a very thin majority (about 51%).
Twenty years later, and at a moment when only 36% of the Frenchs would back the Maastricht Treaty once again, according a CSA opinion poll, the idea of a referendum is emerging following the ratification and implementation of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG). As reminder: this new treaty aims at deepening the Eurozone governance, reinforcing mechanisms of solidarity between Member States but also sanctions mechanisms if a State does not respect his commitments regarding its public finances.
Negotiated by Nicolas Sarkozy, then by François Hollande – who introduced a section concerning growth during the last June European Council – the new treaty does not have unanimous support and some debates exist within the left but also the right. The opponents of the TSCG denounce an obvious democratic deficit. According to them, this text, imposed by Angela Merkel’s Germany, does not change anything and would make the situation worse, depriving Member States of any way of action against a powerful European Commission. Thus, the idea of a referendum is put forward on behalf of the democratic principle which must be respected towards a European Union regarded as more and more technocratic and distant of the popular aspirations.
Campaigning in favour a referendum is a seducing idea insofar as the TSCG opponents hope ruining the ratification thanks to the people’s will. According to a poll, 72% of the French would favour a referendum. This encourages some parties, such as Le Front de gauche (the Left Front), and even some socialist representatives who publicly announced they are going to vote against the treaty. What is more, backing the “no”, the opponents of the TSCG want to extend pressure on François Hollande, in order to drive him to negotiate a new treaty, which would be less favourable to Germany.
Nevertheless, it is important to remind that if the TSCG takes up the chancellor of Germany’s point of views on solidarity and governance, the treaty is just reaffirming the principles adopted in 1992 during the negotiation and the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty via the implementation of the famous Growth and Stability Pact. As Jean Quatremer, underlines on his blog, the TSCG “signed on the last 2nd of March at Brussels, is the pure product of the German will that the Eurozone solemnly renews its economic and budgetary commitments existing in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (3% maximum of the GDP for the public deficit, 60% maximum of the GDP for the public debt) [and] actually, the TSCG is hardly adding anything else to the deepening reform of the growth and stability Pact voted by the European Parliament on the 28th of September 2011 and entered into force in December”.
The TSCG is, in other words, a kind of Maastricht 2.0, aiming at strengthening an Economic and Monetary Union which did not reach its ultimate goal yet, a Eurozone government. Behind this new treaty, there still is this endless debate on the legitimacy of such an initiative in a European Union regarded as less and less democratic and ignoring the people’s aspirations and will. It may be excessive and it is relevant insofar as the national citizens’ distrust towards the European institutions remains important, if we refer to the Eurobarometer. However, if the (real or supposed) democratic deficit issue deserves to be put forward, the fact remains that a referendum is not really relevant insofar as the National Parliament, representing national citizens, hold sovereignty and, moreover, it is just a renewal of the Maastricht Treaty. What is more, a probable referendum would be the wanted occasion for some to divert citizens from the genuine debate, that is to say, the future of the European integration. Thus, if the referendum option is not justified, it seems to be essential to associate citizens to European integration especially in these times of crisis, so that they do not get the impression they are aside or dispossessed by the European Union. This is an essential condition for the EU to be seen by the national citizens as an opportunity, not as a constraint (or worse, a threat).