We Always Need More Democracy!

The Jospin Report Criticizes Politicians Holding Multiple Offices at Once.
By Staff Political Cartoonist Justin Walker

The ball is now in the Socialist Party camp. Friday, former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin released a report to President François Hollande, assessing the state of French democracy and offered a list of propositions to improve it. With this 130-page report, available here (in French), we can see all the flaws that have caused the French people to doubt their politicians and representatives.

The first objective of the Jospin report is to improve the fairness of democracy. While the Fifth Republic was conceived to guarantee strong majorities to the leader party with a single constituency system, the former PM wishes to enlarge pluralism in the Parliament by permitting small parties to enter it through a small share of proportional representation in the legislative election. Regarding the Presidential election, he also proposed to broaden the possibilities of public financing of the campaign and replace the prerequisite of 500 sponsorships from elected officials to run in the election with a new requirement of 150,000 citizen sponsorships (0.3 % of the electorate).

These measures should allow the numerous small parties in French politics to gain representation while not menacing the domination of the main parties in France. This measure could therefore make it to actual reform but criticisms are already emerging. Partisans of the majority system of the Fifth Republic denounce the weakening of the power and raise the spectrum of an institutional crisis such as the one that brought down the Fourth Republic in 1958. Meanwhile, the members of smaller parties criticize a reform at the margin.

Another section of the Jospin report aims at taking down the elected officials from their pedestals. In agreement with the platform of candidate Hollande, the judicial protection of the Chief of the State will reform so that legal actions can be taken against the incumbent (except of course regarding his official actions). The ministers will also no longer benefit from judicial protection. In the same vein, Lionel Jospin wants to institute mandatory declarations from all elected officials in order to prevent all conflicts of interests.

If all these reforms go in the right direction, there is still a long road before France becomes an exemplary democracy.  That is why it is deplorable that the Jospin report does not go further in its propositions. But Lionel Jospin, with his experience as Prime Minister, knows that it is hard to change mentalities and behaviors, especially when it comes to the control of power. Therefore, we can suppose that his report, redacted alongside UMP former minister Roselyne Bachelot and several constitutional law specialists, results from many compromises between the redactors’ ambitions and what the Parliament is likely to vote.

The most controversial measure is without doubt the interdiction of holding several offices at the same time. This practice is a French specificity. It developed in the 1970’s when a large share of young politicians made it to the national stage as local representatives. They spread the belief that a national politician could not be in touch with the deep realities without holding a local office. It leaded to the multiplication of deputies (the French representatives) and senators that were holding a mandate of mayor, president of Regional Council or president of General Council (the instance administrating the départements).

The elected officials that are carrying several mandates, a large share of them being socialists, strongly oppose the proposition of Lionel Jospin despite the fact that some of them signed a declaration in which they promised to abandon their local office for their national responsibilities. For them, the local mandate is a security in case they would lose the national election, as well as a second salary.

But this accumulation of offices in the hand of one person is of course against any democratic belief and reveals the French tradition of strong leaders. When the People of Paris rebelled against the absolute monarchy, they then installed a strong power which led to the domination of the Empire of Napoleon 1st over a large share of Europe. Then, fifty years later, another revolution led to the authoritarian regime of Napoleon 3rd. The Third Republic had more successes but with the defeat of the Nazis, the French chose Marshal Pétain and peace with Hitler’s Germany. Even the Fifth Republic of the General De Gaulle was conceived to give the President free hands to govern.

Now, will the French care enough about democracy to put the representatives under such pressure that they will vote for the bill forbidding politicians from holding multiple offices? The answer to this question is not evident, as the Senate does not directly represent the People. The Higher Chamber is known for its conservatism regarding such matters and neither camp is showing a will to vote the reform. It is the President’s responsibility not to compromise here, as any amendment will damage how the French see their democracy.

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: