Since the results of the first round of the presidential elections, institutional reform has once again been at the forefront of the two finalists’ campaign themes. First, it is a matter of showing its will to make room for greater participation in the exercise of power. Secondly, the reform of the constitutional framework is essential with an extremely worrying demand for the fundamental values of our Republic, in terms of inclusion and solidarity, and European and international engagement.
But let’s stick to a key message: once again the election results, abstention and growing mistrust are fueling debates about the breathlessness of representative democracy and the need to invent new forms of civic participation.
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The outgoing president of the republic has experienced it himself during his mandate, with the Great National Debate, but also with the Civil Climate Treaty. While these two experiments may have left a foretaste of unfinished business, they were no less central in so far as they sought to provide answers to a twin crisis, democratic and environmental.
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We will not solve the democratic crisis without focusing it on solving the ecological crisis, any more than we will bring solutions to the ecological crisis without new forms of democracy. That is the major challenge of the next five years.
In the current institutional framework, public and private decision-makers, in spite of themselves, are encouraged to favor the short term, which prevents them from making the decisions necessary for the profound transition imposed by the ecological emergency. As for citizens, they feel relegated to the role of mere consumers, deprived of any real “power to do”, even though the environmental emergency has led to new forms of engagement among them. Intermediary bodies, organized civil society, have been weakened on their side and are therefore no longer able to guide important political decisions.
This situation cannot continue any longer: it is time to reform our Republic to face this double emergency, democratically and ecologically.
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As a priority, we must rediscover the meaning of the long-term: after the presidential and parliamentary elections, we will be able to see the priority – or not – given to the long-term in the organizational forms that are preserved around the government. For example, the outgoing president indicated that, if elected, the prime minister would be directly responsible for spatial planning. This kind of structural commitment is fundamental to make the transition credible.
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But the planning of the government in Paris alone will not be enough to re-mobilize energy, innovations, civic and collective mobilizations and restore the link between our national community and its democratic institutions, which France fundamentally needs. †
Then within six months the conditions will have to be created for a real national debate, broad and in-depth, on the reform of the institutions. This debate, including the different societal, social and political components, civil society and the bodies formed, should start in early 2023 and be spread over at least a year, in order to work out institutional reforms whose implementation is likely to take term of five years. In particular, the reform agenda should address the following issues:
- How to deal with long-term transformations in increasingly shorter political times? The extension of the president’s mandate, accompanied by a strengthening of the parliament – for example by reversing the calendar with the parliamentary elections or by changing the power to dissolve – could contribute to this return to the long term. The outgoing president has also spoken positively on this subject.
- In order to enable citizens to feel involved and responsible in the Republic, in addition to consolidating existing institutions responsible for participation, such as the National Commission for Public Debate, it is necessary to establish new forms of direct citizen participation. , such as civic or mixed conventions, in addition to existing assemblies. The possibility of introducing other forms of direct democracy will also have to be discussed.
- New stages of decentralization should be discussed, in which environmental planning, social justice and the ability to negotiate transition in the areas are made clear. The place, role, mobilization and strengthening of intermediary bodies and organized civil society should also be part of the debate, including by relying on innovative forms of collective mobilization of the social and solidarity-based economy.
- The status of the company and its – important – role in society, already set in motion with the PACTE law of 2019, could evolve further and reconfigure the relations between social partners, so fundamental to the transition. The announcements of the outgoing president mention the monitoring of executive compensation and its indexation to environmental and social performance. To go further, other options would allow to deepen our social democracy: for example, the German Basic Law establishes the concept of “social ownership”, establishes the presence of workers and unions in the management of companies and establishes social and environmental responsibility requirements.
- Finally, defending democracy, for the sake of democracy itself but also to facilitate the transition, also means seeing information as a public good, which may require new institutional advances. This is also the case with regard to the transparency of public life and the supervision of the activity of interest representatives, following the establishment of the HATVP and the application of the European Whistleblower Protection Directive.
All in all, amendments to the Constitution itself are conceivable in a number of these areas. In light of recent French experiences with civic participation and with regard to experiences of foreign voters, it is obvious that the democratic ambition of the next government is primarily the very method chosen to carry out this renovation. †
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But this renewed democratic tool must address the historic challenge of our generation: to build a lasting barrier against the threats that undermine the human and biophysical viability of our society. In this way, we will overcome the ecological crisis by strengthening the cohesion of our societies, end the rise of populism and prepare the France of 2050 that we want to leave to our children.
By Sébastien Treyer, Director General of IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations), Sciences Po