French lawmakers approve European fiscal treaty

SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press

PARIS -- President Francois Hollande said that France can better contribute to reversing Europe's embattled fortunes after the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ratify a European fiscal treaty that would impose harsher penalties for countries that overspend.

The 477-70 vote, with 21 abstentions, in parliament's lower house drew support from the political right and center, though the Socialist president insisted his allies on the left mustered enough votes by themselves to clear the measure.

"This ample majority will give France an ability to have its extra voice heard. In other words, it will allow us to move forward on the re-direction of Europe that I have committed to since my election" in the spring, Hollande told reporters after meeting with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann in Paris.

The Senate, which like the lower house has a Socialist-led majority, takes it up on Wednesday.

The vote comes as a vindication for Hollande, whose poll numbers have been sliding in recent weeks, amid calls from some in his own party, the far-left, and labor unions to reject the measure. The treaty calls for strict spending rules and oversight _ including automatic penalties _ to make sure those rules aren't violated. It could also unblock billions of euros under the European Stability Mechanism, Europe's new permanent bailout fund.

France hasn't balanced a budget in decades and, like some other euro zone partners, has regularly flouted European requirements that deficits be less than 3 percent of GDP. In 2011, France's deficit was 5.2 percent of GDP.