French Politicians Holding Multiple Offices: French State Council Takes Action

Outside of the Conseil d'Etat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Cdedc

Outside of the Council of State.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Cdedc

Over the past several weeks, the French Council of State has been meeting in regard to the issue of government officials holding multiple offices at the same time. This practice, called cumul des mandats, is similar to our “double-dipping” and the British “double-jobbing.” It has been an ongoing problem, but a solution has finally been reached. According to Le Monde, which was confirmed by a governmental source, the Assembly’s plenary session met last Thursday (February 21) and passed high administrative jurisdiction, recommending that new laws concerning non-overlapping (the parliamentary mandates are currently in progress) take effect in June 2017 for deputies, and in September 2017 for senators.

From now on, Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls will be able to present his text from the Council of Ministers. Alain Vidalies, the Minister of Parliamentary Relations, indicated last Thursday at the Public Senate that “it will probably arrive within fifteen days, at the latest, by the end of March.” In this way, the project concerning the new law can be voted on by the end of the year, and candidates for office will know what to expect as soon as the municipal elections of2014.

The date of entry of the application of the non-overlapping terms was debated at the heart of the Partie Socialiste (PS), as well as between them and the government. The First Secretary of the PS, Harlem Desir, repeatedly stated that he was, “determined to fight for this reform to be applied in the 2014 elections.” Francois Fillon is another individual who is prepared to fight against the accumulation of offices, having stated that, “the French people no longer want the cumul des mandats, the French people no longer want politicians who see political life as a hunting game where it is necessary, every year, to flaunt these trophies just to show their strength.”

The president of the French National Assembly Claude Bartolone worries that if the non-overlapping of a parliamentary mandate with a local executive mandate takes effect as soon as 2014, there will be a wave of resignations throughout the National Assembly. He warned that, “this would amount to a mini-dissolution.”

The Minister of the Interior feels the same way. In a February 15 interview with Le Parisien, Manuel Valls attached a date to the application of the objective: either the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. “It is too difficult for 2014, because this [action] will surely provoke dozens of resignations of deputies who will choose to keep their local positions. That will be a mistake,” he insisted. The previous law transmitted to the Council of State mentioned the date of December 31, 2016 as an end to the overlap. The extension had the benefit of not causing by-elections; it could be used to fill a vacancy during the year prior to the expiration of the assembly. Last Thursday, the plenary assembly of the Council of State believed it to be more appropriate to center the change at the time the rule’s mandate is to expire anyway.

Two separate arguments have arisen from this opinion. One side believes that the new law will be affected by those previously passed. It has been ruled that those holding several offices could continue to hold both until the ending of the first, and then could only continue with the newest. The other argument centers around the previous legislation in the name of principles of non-retroactivity and non-questioning of offices granted to officials. The second argument helps to resolve many political issues. It puts to rest the discussion that has arisen regarding the possible automatic replacement of parliamentarians. As they resign, their alternates will be given the open position. Unfortunately, this solution does not offer any guarantees, as the alternates may also find it beneficial to accumulate government positions. It would be beneficial to all sides if the government were to follow this advice given by the Council of State, as the suggested law would help to quiet much of the reluctance found among current members of parliament.

Since this law will be passed before March 2014 (the date set for the municipal elections), it will be necessary for candidates currently holding local offices to decide whether or not they want to work on a national level. If that is indeed what they wish, they will need to prepare for their inevitable succession. Now, the government can say that, with the passing of this new law, that the Presidential commitment No. 48 has been justly upheld.

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