German parliament gives approval to constitution

Germany's parliament has given overwhelming approval to the European Union constitution in a vote timed to encourage undecided French voters to do the same in tomorrow's referendum.

All but one of the country's 16 states represented in the opposition-controlled upper house yesterday voted in favour of the treaty - giving it 66 of 69 possible votes, far more than the required two-thirds majority.

The result, making Germany the ninth country to back the charter, was applauded by the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, architect of the constitution, who saw the vote in the Bundesrat.

Using the opportunity to make an 11th-hour appeal to wavering French voters, M. Giscard urged his countrymen to look to their neighbours for inspiration. "The day after tomorrow, I hope with all my heart, the French will ratify the constitution in a referendum. The double ratification in Germany and France would mark an historic passage for the future of the constitution and for Europe."

The Bundesrat vote was considered a formality, as the major parties in the lower house, the Bundestag, long ago approved the treaty. Only President Horst Köhler's signature is now required to formally complete ratification. But the process could be held up by one conservative member of parliament, who has filed a legal challenge that could prevent the President from signing in the near future. Peter Gauweiler, one of a group of German politicians who oppose the treaty on the ground that it hands over decisions to Brussels, argued that parliament had no right "to replace the constitutional order of the German constitution with another constitutional system".

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