France

   

Executive Accountability

#26
Key Findings
Despite comparatively strong legislative oversight powers, France scores in only the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.1 points relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and adequate powers to monitor the executive. A pending Macron proposal that would reduce the number of legislators by one-third faces fierce opposition. The Court of Accounts serves as auditor while also making forward-looking proposals, and the country’s active data-protection authority has been in existence for more than 40 years.

While citizens’ interest in politics has been on the decline, social media has provided a venue for activists to attract media and public interest. However, the information shared in such venues is often of very poor quality. The Yellow Vests movement prompted a citizen-consultation process that may help boost consensus and participation.

The main traditional political parties are largely hierarchically organized, while Macron’s movement remains centered on his own person without yet being a mature party. The government consults with economic organizations, but has rejected negotiated solutions on key issues. Only a few non-business organizations make relevant and credible proposals.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#29

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

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


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


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

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political 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 the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Information is often provided on a certain topic once a group of citizens or political activists have succeeded in attracting media attention. Unfortunately, social networks tend to have substituted for traditional media in this information process. This contributes to the diffusion of unverified and fake news to such a point that, as in many other countries, the overall information issue becomes a problem for the proper functioning of democracy. There is also a strong bias in favor of petty news to the detriment of more complex informative pieces concerning, for example, healthcare policy or the fight against poverty.
One of the problems with government information is that politicians tend to hide the truth or minimize harsh realities. Ever 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 fuels populist feelings at both ends of the political spectrum. During his electoral campaign and in his first months in office, President Macron has introduced a new approach of “speaking truth to people.” In practice, this triggered harsh criticism, and was perceived by many as a manifestation of technocratic arrogance and indifference to the situation of the poor. In January 2019, in reaction to the Yellow Vest riots, Macron launched a vast operation organizing 10,000 local citizen debates paired with other (e.g., online) possibilities for citizens to express themselves (Grand débat national). Nearly 2 million citizens contributed to this debate. This pedagogic exercise seems to have worked, since the executive has been able to end the riots and recover a modicum of popular consensus. It remains to be seen whether this exercise might represent a way of transforming governmental methods and fostering greater citizen participation over the long term.

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
6
The bureaucratic and political structure of the country overall provides satisfactory information. It is possible to get full access to information directly or through specialized citizens groups, and several media outlets provide critical analyses of governmental action.
However, the political system, both at the local or national level, offers few instruments to help citizens monitor and oversee their administrative and political authorities. The main issue remains the incapacity of individuals to deal with the massive flows of information provided by public bodies. At the local level, the “information” provided by the ruling party or coalition tends to be mere window-dressing or propaganda in support of the adopted or proposed policy.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#27

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. Until 2017, three-quarters of the members of parliament were also elected local officials, and many of them dedicated more time to local affairs than to parliamentary activities. A new piece of legislation,, in force since June 2018, 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. 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. Macron’s proposed constitutional revision, slated for debate in 2020, will provoke a discussion over reducing the number of members of parliament by one-third, while maintaining the overall level of parliamentary resources. According to the president, this would strengthen the resources of the remaining representatives. However, the opposition has argued that the quality and intensity of representation would be further weakened in a system in which parliament is already subordinated to the executive. Given most senators’ fierce opposition to the proposal, it appears unlikely to obtain the required majority.

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 request 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. Ministers can refuse to attend but this is rather exceptional. 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
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 recent Benalla affair, involving a close ally of the president, has shown that committees enjoy considerable power in that matter. One serious problem is that members of parliament are often absent, 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 each ministry’s activities closely and precisely. The 2007 to 2008 constitutional reform permitted a slight increase in the number of committees, and allowed the establishment of committees dealing with European affairs.

Media

#34

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. 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 public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
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. Use of social-media networks is increasingly substituting for consumption of traditional media, but this usually offers a very poor alternative. Mobilization is becoming more important at the expense of providing fair and accurate information. This tough competition has contributed to a deterioration in the quality of traditional media. Rather than providing neutral information about an issue, media outlets tend to illustrate their points by relying on “man/woman on the street” interviews, generally selecting someone expressing dissatisfaction or a fear of future consequences.
Rather than taking a neutral stance and trying to weigh the pros and cons of proposed reforms, media tend to take partisan stances – not in the sense of being leftist or rightist, but in objecting to change. Two recent examples may illustrate this point. The press (and even more so the social media networks) predicted catastrophe from a change in the way income taxes were paid (shifting from an annual payment by individuals to the state to a direct transfer from the employer to the state) and a change in the system of registering for university (a shift from a previously disastrous system). In both cases, the transformation went very smoothly. The same phenomenon can be observed with regard to the pension reform, in which the press has mainly served to express the voices of vested interests.

Parties and Interest Associations

#33

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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
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. Many politicians are not selected by a party; they are individuals who have made their breakthrough locally and impose themselves on the party apparatus. In the case of the Macron movement, the change is even more radical: candidates were selected from a pool of volunteers with most candidates lacking any prior political experience. In contrast, national politicians normally have a concrete and ground-based knowledge of people’s aspirations and claims based on local experience. 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. 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. It may well take five years or longer for these parties to reconstruct themselves. As for the movement of the new president, La République en Marche, it remains purely a product of and for Macron. It has not yet been able to transform itself into a political party capable of playing a proper role in decision-making and mediation between citizens and government in spite of being the largest political movement at present with 400,000 supporters (although most supporters are followers rather than activists).

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) 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 (Employers & Unions)
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-sized companies complain that their specific interests are marginalized by larger international groups and by the government. Trade unions are usually more reactive in spite or because of their relatively small membership numbers, with trade-union members accounting for less than 8% of the workforce (the lowest percentage within the OECD) and split into several rival organizations. The strategy of the unions is to compensate for their weakness at the company level by negotiating at the sectoral level or even at the national level, and by 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, effectively making decisions jointly with the government. In other areas, the weakness of organized interests results in marginal involvement in decision-making, which may lead to friction during implementation. President Hollande’s attempt to rejuvenate social dialogue produced limited results. A major problem is the political split within the trade union movement. Two corporatist and “conservative” unions (CGT and FO), have taken advantage of their footing in the civil service and public sector, and tend to resist or reject any serious change. They have long relied upon mass mobilization to block reforms, but their ability to mobilize is diminishing except in a few sectors such as public transport. Meanwhile, two other trade unions (CFDT and UNSA) have adopted more moderate positions, and tried to balance advocacy for workers’ interests with a constructive role in negotiating reforms. The government’s rejection of the agreement between the social partners on the issue of unemployment insurance marks a recent failure of social concertation. The government contended that the agreement did not go far enough in tackling the costs and loopholes in a system that provided overgenerous benefits and too few incentives to accept available jobs.

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)
5
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 noneconomic 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 said, only a few associations have 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 make their own proposals.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#15

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
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, the last one from the opposition to the governing party. The role of the Court has dramatically changed, from merely overseeing the government accounts to making a full evaluation of public policies. In fact, the body’s criticisms of past policies and forward-looking proposals are often a blessing for reformers. They can rely on these objective and usually tough evaluations when promoting their own agendas, and can point to the evaluations as a means of persuading the public.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent 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 cases of procedural faults 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.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
10
Data protection in France has a rather long history. The extremely active CNIL (Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés) dates back to 1978. Its board of 17 members is appointed by the two chambers of the parliament. The board then elects its president. The CNIL enjoys the status of an Independent Regulatory Agency. It has five main functions, namely to: inform the public on personal data protection; support any person in relation to personal data protection; advise the legislator; control the use of personal data by private companies and public services; plan and prepare for the impact of technological developments on personal data. The CNIL has a relatively modest staff (215 persons), with a budget of €17 million, and received 8,360 complaints in 2017. The body has been very effective over the past 40 years, and its role is widely supported by the public and political elites. Since May 2018, a European regulation states that every company or public body dealing with personal data has to appoint a “data protection adviser.” As of the date of writing, no information was available regarding fulfillment of this obligation.
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