Reporterre: The members of the Citizen Climate Convention rebel against Macron, Part 2

This is the second part of a translation of an article published by Reporterre following the aftermath of the French Citizen Climate Convention. Part 1 is here.

There are some signs that the Convention is becoming an opposing force to the government. On October 14th about ten citizens, coming from all over the country, set up a protest in front the National Assembly. They protested nothing less than an “act of treason”. Yolande Bouin, who arrived early in the morning from Douarnenez (Brittany) was angrier than ever. In front of an audience of journalists and reporters she announced:

The government is openly jerking us around. I have the feeling of having participated in a big scam to greenwash the President and to buy him some time. Still, 4 or 5 million Euros have been spent on this.

One of her companions, Isabelle Robichon, said she has the impression “of being taken for a sidekick”. Pierre Ruscassie, another citizen, laments “this series of small steps of reversal”. A week before, the MPs of the coalition voted for a law that re-authorized the use of neonicotinoides and for an emergency law that sharply violated environmental rights. “It’s a mess”, says Matthieu Sanchez to Reporterre. “Right now, it’s like fireworks. We don’t know anymore where to look. Between the comments of some ministers and the anti-environmental laws, we can’t work in a reasonable manner anymore.”

In mid-October, the Association of the 150, which re-assembled 130 of the citizen-members of the Convention, has sent a letter to Emmanuel Macron to ask him to reaffirm his commitment. “We have the feeling of lacking a clear and definite support of the executive, whose positions sometimes appear to us to be contradictory”, they wrote. “We cannot continue to defend our measures when we can hardly find in the actions of the government a general ambition toward an effective environmental transition.”

The President responded to them immediately. His letter did not provide any assurance to the citizen-members. After having congratulated them for their work, he warned them that “some measures require adjustments […] Sometimes, they require changing time scales. […] Sometimes, different solutions for the same objective can emerge.”

“We find ourselves on the front lines confronting the lobbies”

“The context is becoming complicated and our maneuvering room is very narrow”, admits Mélanie C., a member of the Convention. “We are not experienced politicians. A year ago, most of the citizens did not even know what is a finance bill! Andn now we find ourselves on the front line, in the middle of the arena, in discussions with the government, confronting the media and the lobbies, which has been our mandate from the outset. We need to find common ground between us, the 150, in order to find consensual and transformative measures.”

Since they delivered their report to the Macron, in June, the members of the Convention took on a new mission. They are continuing to work – voluntarily – in order follow the application of their measures and to participate in the elaboration of the future law. “In the beginning we were super-proud. There was a reward for our hard work”, says Amandine Roggeman. “But, in fact, I quickly became anxious. Finding yourself around the table, that is never easy. We took some beatings.”

During the discussions, the drivers association – an organization with 40 million members – for example, mocked “the harebrained extremist environmental schemes” of the citizens. Christiane Lambert, the president of the agricultural workers union the FNSEA, has also criticized “their unfamiliarity with agricultural problems”. “It seems to me that it is not them who have written their proposals, since they had such difficulty answering our questions”, she declared to the press as she left the National Committee for Environmental Transition on September 1st.

26 Responses

  1. People start to organize :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwS9YbXKeGY&t=7s see this video demonstrating a radical act. This video would be worth translated in English/Germa,
    See you the 13th,

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  2. Sh** 4-5 million Euros for such a misconceived activity. A demarchic metaparty could get properly into parliament with this budget and do something useful, with properly conceived policy ideas.

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  3. PS: This disaster was entirely predictable, on Nov 11 I wrote about it:

    Just noticed: “the objective of the convention: to come up with proposals to fight global warming.” Assuming, this writeup is correct: This kind of task seems to be the latest fashion of brainwave. Just like the Scotland Citizen Assembly. I predict iconic futility of this iconic exercise.

    As a Popperian, I hold it that the “random citizen should create proposals” theory has been solidly falsified.

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  4. I refer to the debate on this topic on this forum a year ago. https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/10943433/posts/12525

    We now reached the stage where the predictable cognitive distortions are becoming evident. These once random people are now full of themselves and their “own” grand proposals. I have observed this behaviour in any number of randomly drawn citizens for proposing or executing functions, instead of – no more, no less – clearly defined deciding functions.

    PS: F.A. Hayek called this kind “secondhand dealers of ideas.” That kind does not understand the original ideas in the requisite depth, as we can read in Yoram’s last paragraph above.

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  5. There are some signs that the Convention is becoming an opposing force to the government.

    The implication of this piece is that a self-selecting subset of a tiny self-selected subset of a small sample of citizens has greater “democratic” legitimacy than the elected government and a drivers’ group with forty million members (and other “lobbyists”). Presumably the rationale for this is that this motley crew of environmental activists is selected by lot, thereby giving them some sort of divine right. Looks like Fustel de Coulanges was right after all.

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  6. Keith,

    > “The implication of this piece is that a self-selecting subset of a tiny self-selected subset of a small sample of citizens has greater “democratic” legitimacy than the elected government”

    There’s an important pair of distinctions to be made here. Firstly, the democratic legitimation needed to make the decisions is not required to lobby for their implementation. Secondly, the allotted – and thus impartial and representative – nature of the citizens’ assembly at the time it made the decisions legitimated those decisions regardless of whether the members subsequently begin lobbying to push its decisions through.

    Politics is the slow boring of hard boards, and no decision-making body can hope to be effectual without a group of people dedicated to pushing each decision through the other components of government and the bureaucracy, whatever they may be, and even to the media and the public at large. A signal strength of the citizens’-assembly model is that it provides that body – the Ostbelgien regional parliament’s citizens’ assembly system incorporates a standing assembly for precisely that purpose. In Alex’s model, of course, the proposals are written by elected parliamentarians, so they can play that role.

    > “Presumably the rationale for this is that this motley crew of environmental activists is selected by lot, thereby giving them some sort of divine right”

    All political representation is essentially a trust placed in the representative by the represented, and so is fundamentally rooted in the fiction that the represented are capable of univocally granting that trust. You can’t get away from magical powers when it comes to political legitimation!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oliver:> the democratic legitimation needed to make the decisions is not required to lobby for their implementation

    Macron, in responding immediately to them, is according them a very privileged status.

    >the allotted – and thus impartial and representative – nature of the citizens’ assembly

    It would only be representative if it were far larger, quasi-mandatory and didn’t indulge in speech acts. As to “impartial” I really don’t know what you mean — everyone has a partial approach to decisions that affect themselves.

    >All political representation is essentially a trust placed in the representative by the represented

    That presupposes that either the represented chose them or that the process generates a sample that accurately mirrors the beliefs and preferences of the target population. Not so in the case of the CCC. How many truck drivers and agricultural workers were included?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Keith,

    > “Macron, in responding immediately to them, is according them a very privileged status”

    The logic of this is insupportable if applied consistently. Small lobby groups do and should receive attention from the executive based on the strength and urgency of their concerns. The democratic and environmental concern that the CCC’s recommendations be followed is perfectly valid ground for that, regardless of who is doing the lobbying.

    > “As to “impartial” I really don’t know what you mean — everyone has a partial approach to decisions that affect themselves”

    The impartiality I have in mind is a) imperfect and b) a property of the assembly as a whole – because the selected citizens comprised a wide selection of the population, without very disproportionate representation for special interests, it approximates impartiality.

    > “That presupposes that either the represented chose them or that the process generates a sample that accurately mirrors the beliefs and preferences of the target population”

    Not so! You’re importing two particular models of legitimation – one of which you don’t even believe in! – and imputing them to the idea of representation itself. But there are many more models of legitimation than this – some less convincing than others *cough cough divine right* – and they all share and attempt to justify that fundamental quasi-fictional relationship of trust between representatives and represented.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oliver,

    It’s hard to imagine the President of the Republic responding immediately to any other tiny group of citizens (apart from major donors to his party coffers), the implication being that this chosen group represented the views of all citizens.

    >Not so! You’re importing two particular models of legitimation – one of which you don’t even believe in!

    I believe, like Pitkin, that both forms of representation (choice and resemblance) are valid, but in different ways. The other variants that she highlighted — Hobbesian, symbolic etc — were all dismissed as confidence tricks, so I don’t know what variants you are referring to.

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  10. We should tread carefully here.

    Average people – even some on this forum – do not appreciate the crucial distinction between proposing and deciding, and the legitimacy of a proper citizen jury institution for only one of these tasks: deciding.

    The proposing task either needs some improved form of election or an open innovation competition approach.

    The predictable failure of the ill-devised CCC project might damage our cause with the general public who understand this distinction even less, not to mention the political class who do not want to lose their decision power.

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  11. > “I believe, like Pitkin, that both forms of representation (choice and resemblance) are valid, but in different ways. The other variants that she highlighted — Hobbesian, symbolic etc — were all dismissed as confidence tricks, so I don’t know what variants you are referring to”

    I must confess that Pitkin is still on my reading list! But my point is that the validity of a form of representation ought to be based primarily on its trustworthiness with the power it’s given – so a citizens’ assembly system can be a valid form of representation without being based on choice or resemblance.

    > “The predictable failure of the ill-devised CCC project might damage our cause with the general public who understand this distinction even less, not to mention the political class who do not want to lose their decision power”

    I doubt that, actually – the project’s failure looks like it will be a result of politicians ignoring its recommendations, not the system itself. It seems to me most likely damage the cause of advisory citizens’ assemblies, while advancing the cause of more radically sortitional systems, by showing that the politician-friendly advisory model is ineffectual. Elected politicians’ being seen to frustrate citizens’ demands is very unlikely to make the electoral system more popular, and makes it easy to place the citizens’ assembly in the position of ‘the people’ unfairly silenced by ‘the elite’.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Oliver:> “I doubt that, actually – the project’s failure looks like it will be a result of politicians ignoring its recommendations”

    Not sure there, Oliver, maybe for some, at first sight and in the first moment. Over time, more analysis by competent civic institutions such as the drivers association (“harebrained extremist”) and the agricultural workers union (“incompetent/remote controlled”) will be the narrative of media, opinion makers and influencers. And unfortunately, rightfully so.

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  13. Oliver:> I must confess that Pitkin is still on my reading list!

    I’m sorry, but it’s the Ur-text on political representation, so it really is required reading if we want to have a well-informed debate on this topic. I’ve yet to find a political theorist who disagrees with her analysis (other than to say it would be conceptualised slightly differently if she had read Wittgenstein rather than Austin).

    Hubertus:> The predictable failure of the ill-devised CCC project might damage our cause with the general public

    Agreed. Until the people who set up this sort of venture have a better understanding of what sortition can and cannot do, it’s better not to do anything!

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  14. Oliver,

    > But my point is that the validity of a form of representation ought to be based primarily on its trustworthiness with the power it’s given – so a citizens’ assembly system can be a valid form of representation without being based on choice or resemblance.

    Exactly!

    The formalisms in which Pitkin and her acolytes here and elsewhere busy themselves are merely distractions that serve as transparently false excuses attempting to justify oligarchical power structures.

    (If you ever read Pitkin and find any useful in her book, please let me know. I found it completely pointless.)

    > the project’s failure looks like it will be a result of politicians ignoring its recommendations

    Yes. In fact, the fact that the politicians and other elite actors are doing their best to avoid implementing the CCC’s recommendations may very well be an indication that the allotted body was democratic – i.e., that it did represent the idea and values of the population. Why would we expect that an elite-dominated system would implement policies that were generated democratically?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well, including Yoram’s comment we now have one theory that the CCC policies will be implemented and three competing theories why not. Altogether four different theories:

    1. rcaze: Yes. Because people will organise and force the proposals through by (future point in time).
    2. Yoram: No. Because the elected representatives, the “elite”, will resist any “democratically generated” proposals.
    3. Keith: No. Because the CCC lacks legitimacy and will be resisted.
    4. Hubertus: No. Because the ill-mandated CCC, as predicted, generated harebrained proposals which will be resisted on epistemic grounds.

    Should we move on to falsifiability criteria, including differentiating ones between 2-4?

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  16. No. I agree with Yoram, the measures won’t be implemented by this government, but I have hope they will one day. And Yoram’s posts are giving me this hope, like the comments of Oliver (BTW your profile photo rocks).

    Liked by 2 people

  17. So, to be clear, Yoram is opposed to:

    Political theory
    Political science
    Elites (in any shape or form)
    Market approaches to media and other public goods
    Liberalism
    Electoralism
    Anything other than interests

    A now it would appear he no longer sees sortition as “representation based on resemblance”. So sortition appears to have no intrinsic value at all. What he is in favour is “democracy”, which he defines as any political system in which “the people” have “trust”, as measured by public opinion surveys. As various commentators have pointed out, this could include dictatorships and theocracies.

    Given that Yoram is the convenor of Equality by Lot, it looks like it’s not just the CCC that is intent on discrediting the sortition movement.

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  18. And of course despite all we still love him for running the show here.

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  19. > And of course despite all we still love him for running the show here.

    I must be doing something wrong then… :).

    Liked by 1 person

  20. While I agree that good democratic design should separate proposing from deciding, I’m not sure how much that was violated by the French experiment. It is obvious that this group of random lay people did not “draft” these proposals. A huge array of conflicting interest groups drafted hundreds of variations on different proposals, and the mini-public essentially decided which to approve and include in their final document. While this is not the optimal design, it is not as bad as some are suggesting.

    Ideally the work of the CCC, instead of being presented to the government, would have been presented to a large (at least 1,000 people) jury, with mandatory service, and with final decisive authority, such that if approved by this fully representative mini-public the government would be legally obligated to implement the proposals, and if rejected, the proposals would be merely ideas for the current or any future government to consider.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Terry: Full agreement that the CCC design was a mess to start with, and also on most of the qualities which you list.

    However, BIG disagreement on the numbers game. We must design such manageable chunks of proposals and distribute them to quite a number committees of no more than the Dunbar number, n=150. All the same 1000 people on hundreds of policies is a waste of citizen time, harder to moderate and it is cognitively for these average people even worse as today’s elected jack-of-all trade politicians.

    We need to do the supercomputer trick: a huge number of processors working in parallel and fully distributed.

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  22. Terry:> A huge array of conflicting interest groups drafted hundreds of variations on different proposals

    This confirms my scepticism that proposals could be generated by randomly-selected persons “deliberating” together (a similar point would apply to the Athenian council). Alex and my model seeks to ensure that the “conflicting interest groups” reflect the broad preferences of the demos, rather than those with the deepest pockets or who attended the same grande école. The lorry drivers’ association, farm workers union and gilets jaunes would have the numerical strength to form their own political party which would, given our reduced threshold, have a high probability of having their own proposals considered by the randomly-selected disposing authority. The hybrid of election and sortition that we are proposing is the only viable formula for ortho-democracy in large modern states and shouldn’t be ruled out on purely ideological grounds, which are little more than the aristocratic contempt for populism which is a characteristic of the New Left. Goodness me, lorry drivers and agricultural labourers proposing environmental policy! Whatever next — a B movie actor, body builder or reality TV star running for one of the high offices of state?

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Keith,

    The irony of this argument for your and Alex’s proposal is that, under it, proposals would be drafted not by lorry drivers and agricultural labourers but by professional politicians and their hangers-on. The citizens’ assembly model at least provides the opportunity for the allotted workers to draft the laws themselves.

    A data point against the contention that the CCC didn’t draft its own proposals but merely chose among lobbyists’: Hélène Landemore, who observed the process first-hand, professes that she was convinced by it that ordinary citizens really could draft their own laws.

    (Incidentally, I have already ordered Pitkin’s ‘Concept of Representation’, and so will soon be initiated into the hallowed mysteries of political theory, to which my two Masters degrees and three years of doctoral study have apparently failed to admit me. Very excited lmao.)

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Oliver:> The irony of this argument for your and Alex’s proposal is that, under it, proposals would be drafted not by lorry drivers and agricultural labourers but by professional politicians and their hangers-on.

    Under our proposal, the reduced threshold makes it highly likely that a political party that really serves the interests of ordinary working people (unlike the “Labour” Party) would gain enough support for its proposals to make it over the threshold. If the professional politicians running the party failed to properly reflect the interests of its members (and voters) then either they would be kicked out or the party would fail and be replaced by another one that did its job properly. And to create this political nirvana all you need to do is change the proposal threshold, to ensure multiple proposals for every policy area (and multiple parties to offer them).

    >I have already ordered Pitkin’s ‘Concept of Representation’, and so will soon be initiated into the hallowed mysteries of political theory.

    Good news, especially as your PhD is in a very different area (computational models of consciousness.) And I do hope you read our Journal of Consciousness Studies, which has published oodles of stuff in this field (mostly highly critical of “cognitivism” and other such delusions.) It would give us something else to argue about!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m arriving at this discussion a bit late, but it does seem to me we are taking the CCC a bit too seriously. It was never defensible on first principles, but that wasn’t the point, the point was to force mainstream politicians to at least pretend to care about including ordinary citizens in policy making.

    The value of this is ultimately tactical in nature: it forces some form of citizens’ assembly to be included in regular policy debate, and it gives the CA movement more ammunition when (inevitably) politicians ignore the CA’s conclusions. I’m not familiar enough with french politics to know whether the CCC will be a success in that regard, but I never expected it to have the slightest influence on actual policy.

    Major constitutional changes must fail many times over before they succeed.

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  26. […] This is the second part of a translation of an article published by Reporterre following the aftermath of the French Citizen Climate Convention. Part 1, Part 2. […]

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