Bouniol: The idea of a Citizens Chamber gains ground

Béatrice Bouniol has been showing some interest in sortition in her stories at La Croix. Last November, on the occasion of the publishing of a new book on the subject of “The Citizens Assembly of the Future”, Bouniol had the following story.

The idea of a Citizens Chamber gains ground

During COP 23, the Foundation for Nature and Man calls on France to make a democratic innovation by establishing a Citizen Assembly for the Future. Facing a crisis of representation, a citizens’ third chamber, an idea which has been discussed for about twenty years, gains ground.

On July 3rd, 2017, speaking in front of Congress, Emmanuel Macron proposed the transformation of the Social and Environmental Economy Council (CESE) into a Chamber of the Future, “a forum of our Republic” aimed at becoming “the crossroad of public deliberation”. Dominique Bourg, president of the scientific council of the Foundation for Nature and Man – created by Nicolas Hulot – having advocated the creation of such a chamber since 2011, was thus pleased at the proposal, but expressed his worry on the pages of La Croix that it could be a mere “rebranding – certainly necessary but far below what is desired.” The programmatic essay that appears today under his direction (Inventing the 21st Century Democracy: The Citizen Assembly of the Future. [Inventer la démocratie du XXIe siècle. L’Assemblée citoyenne du futur, Les Liens qui libèrent/Fondation pour la Nature et l’homme, 2017]) aims therefore to remind the President of the Republic of the conditions required for creating a Citizen Assembly for the Future.


The hall of the Social and Environmental Economy Council, at Iena Square, Paris.

In order to go beyond a feel-good formula, the establishment of a third parliament chamber must rest on an effort of democratic creativity, required by an unprecedented situation. At the age of the anthropocene (a new geological period defined by the impact of humans on their environment), reported by a group of researchers, it is necessary to systematically take into consideration of the impact of laws on the long term, that is, of their influence on the large scale physical and biological evolution of the planet.

Putting citizen proposals on the agenda

A revolution which involves replacing the existing CESE – with its current budget – with a new Assembly, composed of three equal groups: 50 members of organized civil society, 50 ordinary citizens and 50 environmental experts, all allotted. Adjoint to a High Council of the Long Term, this chamber could require a new round of deliberation of proposals and bills if they judge them as having negative impact or refer them to the Constitutional Council. It would also have as its mission to put on the agenda citizen proposals and to follow new experiments in order to “promote good practices and modes of living that conform to an ecological transition and a sustainable economy”.

A democratic invention urgently needed

The constitutional scholar Dominique Rousseau (author of Radicalizing Democracy: Proposals for Its Rebuilding, [Radicaliser la démocratie. Propositions pour une refondation, nouvelle édition, Seuil, 2017]) shares the sense that establishing such a process is necessary, although he draws his proposed Citizen’s Assembly along different lines. Advocating for a democracy where the people can participate on an ongoing basis in law-making, he favors the elimination of CESE and the creation a third chamber of deliberation, made entirely of allotted citizens and representatives of civil society. “The opinion of experts is already taken into account through the committees handling different subject. It the physical, concrete citizen that is not represented. Along with the National Assembly which represents the nation, that is, the abstract citizen, and with the Senate, which represents the local communities, we are missing a Social Assembly.”

Even if they disagree on the composition and the mode of operation of a future Citizens Chamber, these authors agree on the urgency of such a democratic change. As for the risk of further lengthening the legislative procedure, Dominique Rousseau tackles that directly: “The general will does not hold a specific seat at a the table but requires taking the time for deliberation. Even if it is necessary to avoid building overly complex structures, it is necessary to use the collective energy and intelligence of the citizens within the institutions for them to become a tool for emancipation and for the realization of the common good.”

5 Responses

  1. Before creating a third chamber it seems urgent to stop stripping down the power of Assemblée nationale. The executive power in France dangerously takes more importance from day to day over the parliement…

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  2. *** If in France the President takes more importance from day to day over the Parliament, it is mostly because, given his election process, more clear, more direct, on the national scale and without possible gerrymandering, he enjoys more « democratic representative » legitimacy.
    *** A Third Chamber as designed, including people of different representativities, will have a low level of legitimacy.
    *** A Third Chamber mixing « representatives of civil society » and allotted citizens could be used to obscure the common citizens sensitivities and to be a tool of manipulation; I am afraid we are here in Rosanvallon’s idea of « polyphony ».
    *** Every draft mixing allotted citizens and other « representatives » must be very suspect, including for the supporters of an hybrid model.

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  3. *** Macron obtained 20,7 votes that corresponds to 43,6 % of registered voters. Far from a majority… but a certain democratic legitimacy.

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  4. 20.7 millions

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  5. Andre,

    > *** Every draft mixing allotted citizens and other « representatives » must be very suspect, including for the supporters of an hybrid model.

    Very true, but the same is true for fully allotted chambers – there are many ways in which they can be set up for manipulation.

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