Lawmakers approve France’s return to NATO

March 18th, 2009 - 11:52 am ICT by IANS  

Paris, March 18 (DPA) As expected, lawmakers in the French National Assembly voted late Tuesday in favour of a measure that effectively approved President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to return France to NATO’s military command structure.
By a vote of 329 to 238, the deputies passed a vote of confidence in the foreign policy conducted by Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his government, including the decision to return to full NATO membership.

In 1966, then-president Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of the alliance’s military command and evicted US bases from French soil.

Tuesday’s vote in favour of the government was a foregone conclusion, because Sarkozy’s UMP party and its centre-right allies hold a substantial majority in the National Assembly.

However, the debate was lively. Opposition deputies accused Sarkozy of avoiding a direct confrontation over the issue by linking the NATO measure with a vote of confidence in the government.

“This debate is decisive, but the decision has already been made,” former prime minister Laurent Fabius said.

Even conservative lawmakers had complained about the ploy.

“We’re condemned to vote for it,” UMP deputy Georges Tron told the daily Le Parisien. “The executive is telling us: Push the nuclear button or shut up.”

Socialist Party head Martine Aubry said the return to NATO’s military command would be an obstacle in the construction of a European defence.

That argument was dismissed by Fillon, who told lawmakers during the debate that Europeans do not want to have to choose between NATO and their own, independent defence capability.

In defending his decision, Sarkozy said earlier this month that France’s return to full NATO membership would strengthen European defence capabilities by giving Paris a say in the alliance’s mission strategies and planning.

“Now we have soldiers deployed on the ground … but no influence on the missions in which they participate,” Sarkozy said. “We have excluded ourselves.”

France currently is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to NATO and has some 2,800 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.

France will now officially be re-admitted to the integrated NATO military command structure during the NATO summit April 3-5, held jointly in the cities of Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany.

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