An interview with a member of the French Citizen Climate Convention

In January, Le Télégramme interviewed, Denis Boucher, a member of the French Citizen Climate Convention:

How is the convention organized?

We are 150 citizens of all ages and walks of life, including some who are younger than 18 and others who live in overseas France. There is great diversity and I believe that we represent French society quite well. We gather one weekend each month for a session of three days. We work around five themes dealing with the objective of reaching a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030: food, transportation, housing, consumption, and production. I am part of the housing theme. The allocation to themes was by sortition – that is the principle of the convention. We reject expertise from the outset and it is normal citizens who express themselves, whoever they may be. It is an altogether original organization which really embodies direct democracy. It is a little like the citizens of Ancient Greece would discuss the issues of the city in the agora.

Where are you now in the process?

We are in the fourth session and we just finished the latest weekend of work. After 4 months during which we heard numerous speakers and understood the climate and the objectives we are now entering into the thick of it. We are going to propose measures that will become bills of legislature, decrees or constitutional amendments. That is not going to be easy!

You met Emmanuel Macron last Friday, how did that go?

It was very interesting and his visit is important for democracy, because it is we who have asked to meet him and he accepted. He has no constitutional right to go to Parliament and speak in front of its members. But he came to the people as their elected official and we were able to “audition” him on the issue of the climate much as we did with any other speaker. It is a very powerful democratic gesture.

What do you think about the skepticism and the criticism that some have regarding the convention?

Our position on this is quite clear and well-known. The citizen convention upsets some, especially NGOs, because they consider us as their “competitors”. There are also some members of parliament who are unhappy that we are doing their job in proposing legislation. There is therefore a certain animosity from some speakers, academics, experts and established political bodies, who try to put our legitimacy in question. These criticisms are not really justified because we are not putting ourselves as substitutes for anyone and we are not inventing anything. We are listening to everybody in order to create a “citizen synthesis” of all opinions. The force of our proposals is that they will be citizen proposals.

There is also the question of financing these proposals. What about that?

There are actually several questions. There is the question of financing the proposals, but since they are not yet formulated, it is hard to answer this question. And then there is the question of financing the work of individuals and companies developing technology. We are working with banks in order to find solutions and sources of state-guaranteed credit for development associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Are you confident about the rest of the convention?

The atmosphere is very good and we are working well. But transforming grand and general ideas into bills is not easy. Emmanuel Macron told us on Friday: “If you are specific, there will be no rewriting and no filtration of your proposals.” It is this that we are now going to try to do.

Personally, what is it that you take away from this experience?

What most strikes me is the experience of direct democracy. And I am very impressed to see the involvement and the seriousness of my 150 fellow-citizens, including the youngest ones. I appreciate this greatly.

2 Responses

  1. My guess is that this may lead to some disillusion with the process because it will produce proposals which will then be cherry picked or at the other end Swiss Cheesed (?) by the rest of the political process. Once this happens, it’s not clear what legitimacy the process has other than as one interesting(ish) and somewhat influential input into business-as-usual. That is probably better than nothing, but it doesn’t strike me that it’s clear that it will work well, or that it will leave the nation with a good opinion of the process. Time may tell. It will be interesting to see.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Boucher claims that the sortition of 150 citizens is a form of direct democracy. How so? Direct democracy means that all citizens get to participate (otherwise its not a democracy). The only justification of sortition is as a form of (indirect) representation and that would require larger numbers, quasi-mandatory service and a tightly constrained mandate in order to ensure ongoing representativity.

    >The force of our proposals is that they will be citizen proposals.

    Sure, but there is the need to demonstrate that they are the proposals that a plurality of all citizens would make, rather than 150 volunteers. Given that the pool is subdivided into 5 themes, that makes 30 per theme and that is a long way short of meaningful statistical representation. I blame Jon Elster for this confusion, given his “minimal” definition of democracy as “any kind of effective and formalized control by citizens over leaders or policies” (1998, p. 98) as he doesn’t seem remotely bothered which citizens get to have control, or how many of them there are, just so long as they are sans-culottes.

    Elster, J. (1998), Deliberative Democracy, CUP.

    Like

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