France

   

Executive Accountability

#29
Key Findings
Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A new law forbids lawmakers to hold simultaneous national and local or regional positions, potentially improving oversight capabilities. A Court of Accounts serves an increasingly effective auditor’s role when requested to do so by the parliament.

Citizens’ policy knowledge is deemed relatively poor, in part due to often-superficial television programming. High-quality newspapers are showing circulation declines. Macron’s approach of openly identifying public-policy problems and reforms may help improve the quality of public debate.

The main traditional political parties were devastated by their loss in the most recent elections, while Macron’s movement remains centered on his own person. Business, agricultural and educational associations are influential, but traditional trade unions are fragmented and resistant to change. Only a few non-business organizations make relevant and credible proposals.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#30

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
Citizens’ interest in politics and their participation in the political process have been on the decline in recent decades. Obtaining their information primarily from television, most citizens are poorly informed. Television stations devote little time to any political topic and tend to prefer talk shows where people express their views, rather than using prime-time hours for political information. Information follows mobilization, rather than the other way around, evidenced by the protest movements against TTIP and CETA. Information is often provided on a certain topic once a group of citizens or political activists have succeeded in attracting media attention.

One of the problems with government information is that politicians tend to hide the truth or to minimize harsh realities. Since the Socialist government’s economic policy U-turn in 1983, governments have tried to hide necessary measures or reforms behind a veil of euphemistic language. This kind of action “by stealth” may initially be successful, but it does not enhance political awareness among citizens and it also fuels populist feelings at both ends of the political spectrum. Both in his electoral campaign and in his first months in office, President Macron has introduced a new approach that involves clearly and openly addressing problems and necessary reforms. It remains to be seen if, and to what extent, this may enhance citizen’s information and the quality of public debate.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#26

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
7
French legislators have fewer resources at their disposal than, for instance, their American colleagues, but they are reasonably equipped should they wish to make use of all facilities offered. In addition to two assistants, whom parliamentarians can freely choose, they receive a fixed amount of funds for any expenditure. There is a good library at their disposal, and a large and competent staff available to help individuals and committees. These committees can also request the support of the Court of Accounts or sectoral bureaucracies, which are obliged to provide all information requested. There are still problems, centered on the long tradition of parliamentarians holding several political mandates. Up to 2017, three-quarters of parliamentary members were also elected local officials, and many of them dedicate more time to local affairs than to parliamentary activities. A new piece of legislation forbids parliamentarians to hold executive positions in local or regional councils, forcing them to choose between local and national mandates. This is a true revolution applicable from June 2018. Since absenteeism was one of the major problems of the French parliament both in the plenary sessions and within the specialized committees, one might hope that the control and evaluation functions of parliament will improve in the future.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
9
Committees have free access to all requested documents. However, areas such as national security, the secret service or military issues are more sensitive. The government might be reluctant to pass on information but, worse, could be tempted to use information limitations to cover up potential malpractices. For instance, in the past the PMO had at its disposal substantial amounts of cash that could partially be used for electoral activities of the party in power. No information was available about where the money actually went. In the same vein, it is only since the Sarkozy presidency that the president’s office budget has become transparent and accessible to parliamentary inquiry.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
8
Committees can summon ministers for hearings, and frequently make use of this right. In exceptional cases, ministers can refuse to attend. Given the supremacy and the discipline of the majority party in parliament during the Fifth Republic, such a refusal does not result in serious consequences.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
The parliamentary committees can summon as many experts as they wish as often as they need in all matters, and they often make use of this right. The main problem is often related to the absenteeism of members of parliament even in cases of very important issues such as Brexit.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
3
There is no congruence between the structures of ministries and those of parliamentary committees. The number of parliamentary committees is limited to eight (up from six in 2008) while there are 25 to 30 ministries or state secretaries. This rule set up in 1958 was meant as, and resulted in, a limitation of deputies’ power to follow and control closely and precisely each ministry’s activity. The 2007 to 2008 constitutional reform permitted a slight increase of committees and allowed the possibility to set up committees dealing with European affairs.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
8
Parliament does not have its own audit office, except for a special body called the Office Parlementaire d’Évaluation des Choix Scientifiques et Technologiques, which is responsible for analyzing and evaluating the impact of technology. In practice, its role has been rather limited.

Instead, the Court of Accounts is now at the disposal of any parliamentary request and can act both as auditor and adviser. While much progress could be made to fully exploit this opportunity, it is noticeable that collaboration between the two institutions has improved since the Court’s presidency was offered to two prestigious former politicians. Improvements also resulted from the decision by former President Sarkozy to appoint the then chairman of the finance and budget committee of the National Assembly to the post, a position which for the first time had been reserved for the opposition party. Actually, the role of the court has dramatically changed, from a mere control of accounts to a full evaluation of public policies.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
Parliament has no ombuds office but plays a key role in the functioning of the (former) Ombudsman office. Until 2011, the médiateur (ombudsman) could intervene in malpractices and administrative problems at the request of individuals but only through the mediation of a parliamentarian. The purpose was to try to solve as many problems as possible through the intervention of elected representatives, and to ask the ombudsman to step in only if the issue could not be addressed or solved in a satisfactory way. In 2011, the office was merged with other independent authorities to form a new body (Le Défenseur des Droits). This new agency is active and respected having demonstrated its independence vis-à-vis the administration and government. However, it has not affected the role of parliamentarians in the process and they continue to channel citizens’ requests.

Media

#30

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
Mass media, notably morning (radio) and evening programs, offer quality information concerning government decisions. As for print media, the crucial issue is the division between local and national media. A few quality daily papers and weekly papers provide in-depth information, but their circulation is low and on the decline. In many instances, the depth and magnitude of information is dependent upon the level of polarization of the government policy. Instead, in local newspapers, information is often superficial and inadequate. The same division applies to private and public audiovisual channels (some private channels offer only limited, superficial and polemical information), and to the emerging online media (only some of which offer quality information and analysis). On the whole, economic information is rather poor. Social media networks tend to substitute for traditional media and usually offer a very poor alternative. Mobilization is becoming more important at the expense of providing fair and checked information. This tough competition contributes to a deterioration in the quality of traditional media.

Parties and Interest Associations

#30

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
6
Parties are usually both centralized and organized hierarchically. There are few registered fee-paying political activists. These are all serious limitations to the inclusiveness of citizens in the selection of leaders and of policy options. However, there are some countervailing forces. One traditional point is the practice of accumulating elective mandates. Many politicians are not selected by a party; they are individuals who have made their breakthrough locally and impose themselves on the party apparatus. This means that national politicians have a concrete and ground-based knowledge of people’s aspirations and claims. Another factor is the popular election of the president. Candidates’ programs are inclusive; no policy sector is forgotten in their long to-do list. A third factor lies in recent changes in the selection of candidates for presidential elections and communal elections. Primaries have taken place, first within the Socialist Party, then in the neo-Gaullist conservative Union for Popular Movement (UMP). In those cases, both registered activists and voters sympathetic to the party are eligible to participate. Actually, this “opening” of the process contributes to a further weakening of the parties which are already very feeble organizations. The strong participation in the primaries (up to 4.4 million in the case of the conservatives, a multiple of the number of registered members) is a form of citizen participation in a crucial political party decision, which can be seen as a positive sign for open and democratic legitimation of the party’s choice. However, in spite of this apparent success, the primaries in France have confirmed the American experience: they are the most efficient instruments for weakening and destroying political parties. The socialist and conservative primaries have been profitable to the most radical candidates in both cases, deserting the moderate political space and thus permitting the landslide success of the centrist Macron. As a result, the traditional parties of government are deeply divided and weakened. Five years will not be too much for these parties to attempt to reconstruct themselves. As for the new movement of the new president, La République en Marche, it remains purely a product of and for Macron. La République en Marche has not yet been able to transform itself into a movement capable of playing a proper role in decision-making, and mediation between citizens and government.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
4
Business associations, mainly the largest employer’s union (Mouvement des Entreprises de France, MEDEF) but also agricultural associations, are able to formulate policy proposals and contribute to agenda setting. They have their own research capabilities, and can successfully lobby government and parliamentarians. Weaker organizations such as the association of small and medium companies complain that their specific interests are marginalized by larger international groups and by the government. Trade unions are usually more reactive, mainly because their membership is low, at less than 8% of the workforce (the lowest percentage within the OECD), and split into several rival organizations. Trade unions’ strategy is to counterweight their weakness at the company level by negotiating at the sector level or even at the national level, and organizing mass protests in the streets. In areas where interest groups are united and strong, as in agriculture and education, they may have substantial influence, amounting to co-decisions together with government. In other areas, the weakness of organized interests results in marginal involvement in decision-making, which may lead to friction on implementation. President Hollande’s attempt to rejuvenate “social dialog” has produced limited results. A major problem is that two corporatist and “conservative” unions (CGT and FO), taking advantage of their footing in the civil service and public sector, have more or less rejected any change (e.g., they refused to sign the previously mentioned agreements). Macron in attempting to reform the labor law code has opted for a different strategy: organizing a systematic, but separate consultation with all the unions; and then adopting ordinances (executive orders) without parliamentary debate and overall negotiation with the unions.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
The number of, and membership in, non-business associations has been increasing. If the phenomenon of dependency on the financial support of public authorities exists, especially at the local level, there are non-economic associations that are combining pluralistic approaches, long-term perspectives and a public perspective. This can be seen in fields such as urban policy (where national programs and local public actors rely on the expertise and commitment of associations dealing with local issues), environmental policy or social policy (aid to people with different social problems or handicaps).

This being said, only a few associations are equipped with the capacity to make relevant and credible proposals. Some groups (such as environmental groups and social workers) have a real proactive strategy; however, most associations are reactive and prefer to object rather than suggest.
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