Germany completed on Friday the legal process for ratifying the historic European Union (EU) constitution, sending a positive signal to neighboring France, where a decisive referendum is to be held on Sunday.
Representatives from Germany's 15 federal states voted in favor of the document while one state, Mecklenburg-West Pommerania, abstained, due to the opposition from the Party of the Democratic Socialism (PDS). The Bundestag, the lower house, approved it earlier this month.
Now the treaty only needs to be signed by President Horst Koehler.
Germany is the ninth country to ratify the European Constitution. Austria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain have already done so.
The constitution, approved in Brussels in June 2004, brings together for the first time treaties and agreements on which the EU is based. It defines the powers of the EU, stating where it can act and where the member states retain their right of veto.
Bundesrat President Matthias Platzeck called the constitution a "milestone" in European development that would increase the union's international influence.
The treaty's smooth approval in Germany, where two world wars originated, resulted from historical roots. Germans are strong supporters of the European integration because they believe such a process would prevent repetition of wars.
Speaking at the Bundesrat, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reminded those who opposed the constitution that the EU was the answer to the two world wars and a "No" to it will make union "weaker."
Another reason why the document was widely supported in Germany is that some key elements of the constitution, such as "double majority" voting mechanism, are more in the interests of Germany, which has a population of over 80 million, the largest among EU members.
The constitution says: "A qualified majority shall be defined as at least 55 percent of the members of the Council, comprising at least 15 of them and representing Member States comprising at least 65 percent of the population of the Union."
Early this month, an Infratest poll showed that 59 percent of Germans back the treaty. Only about 15 percent would vote against it if a referendum were held in Germany.
Under the constitution, the EU Commission president will continue to lead the body responsible for proposing and executing EU laws.
But the European Council will elect a president for a two-and-a- half year term, renewable once. The system of rotating the presidency every six months will be canceled. A new position of foreign minister will also be created.
The constitution, which is a treaty among 25 states, cannot come into force unless it is ratified by all of them.
The latest French opinion poll, by TNS Sofres-Unilog, showed that 54 percent of people intend to vote "No", with 46 percent to vote "Yes". A French "No" would mean the constitutional treaty is almost certainly dead.
One of the fears the French opponents have is that the treaty will create an ultra-free market economy within the EU, undermining traditional French levels of social protection.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder traveled to France Friday to assist the French government in campaigning for the treaty. Fischer visited France a number of times for the same purpose.
Speaking in the German Bundesrat on the same day, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who led the constitution draft committee, issued a last-ditch appeal to his countrymen.
"The day after tomorrow, I hope with all my heart, the French will in their turn ratify the constitution in a referendum," he said.
"Ratification by Germany and France would mark an historic step forward for the future of the constitution and for Europe," said the former president, who helped draft the constitution.
However, German media reports analyzed that what happened in Germany may not affect voters in France.
A "No" by France, one of the EU's founding fathers, will certainly be a big blow to the union and also the French leaders.
"Rejection of the treaty would not only be a setback for Europe, but would also humiliate (President Jacques) Chirac and make him only the second French leader, after Gen. Charles de Gaulle, to lose a referendum since the founding of the French Fifth Republic in 1958," the German magazine Spiegel said in an on-line article.