The French Assembly votes to allow the CESE to convene allotted citizen bodies

Following up on Macron’s commitment to reform the CESE (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) as part of a drive toward “participative democracy”, the Assembly has voted for a law making several changes to the CESE. One of the changes is allowing the CESE to convene allotted consultative citizen bodies, modeled after the recent Citizen Climate Convention.

The conservative Républicains party voted for the reform but was displeased by the idea of using allotted bodies: “Sortition does not guarantee competence” and does not guarantee representativity either, said Julien Aubert, one of their MPs.

Bellon: The sortition pandemic

A column by André Bellon, July 7th, 2020.

This is not the first time that I opine on sortition, but addressing this matter seems to me more and more necessary in view of the avalanche of commentary which has accompanied the celebrated “Citizen Convention for the Climate”.

If the advocates of sortition were able to appear for a while like dreamers, they are now showing their toxicity. They are now are now no longer merely asking us for a convention aimed to enlighten public decision making. They are now demanding an allotted parliament. Considering, with much justice, that the elected do not represent the voters any more, they are not trying to redefine the mandate of the elected. They are proposing to suppress the voters.

An so, Jacques Testart conjures up an allotted constitutional assembly. Just that! The legal expert Dominique Rousseau, who constantly criticizes universal suffrage – which he falsely associates with abbé Sieyès – asks for a new deliberative assembly formed by sortition. To justify his request, he declares: “The nation has its chamber, then national assembly. The territories have theirs, the senate. The citizens, who are everything in society but nothing in its institutions, should have their chamber as well”. Beyond this far-fetched argument, Rousseau feels that in order to be truly represented, the citizens should no longer be voters. To be consistent, he opposes the popular initiative process (référendum d’initiative citoyenne) because it could “ask about the reestablishment of the death penalty, citizen preference or the preventative detention of sexual deviants?”.
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The French citizen convention on the climate: the endgame


Florent Gougou and Simon Persico write in La Vie des idées about the approaching culmination of the French citizen convention on the climate and how its work should be translated into policy. They find the use of a referendum particularly appealing. Also included in the article is the useful chart above comparing along several dimensions the makeup of the French National Assembly to that of members of the convention (which were selected to reflect the makeup of the French population).

Deciding together: The citizen convention on the climate and the democratic challenge

Now that the citizen convention on the climate is drawing to a close, how should the proposals of the allotted citizen be made into policy within the framework of the a democratic process? What place and shape should a referendum take within the political decision-making?

In the weekend of June 19 to 21, the 150 citizens allotted to the citizen convention on the climate will meet for the last time in order to conclude their work. Two essential points will be on their schedule. The first is finalizing the list of proposals that they will hand to the executive, and more broadly to the French people. The second is choosing the legal mechanisms by which a decision would be made regarding those proposals: executive orders, legislation or through a referendum.
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Dutch sortition website

Tegen Verkiezingen (Against Elections) is a dutch website informing and advocating for sortition. In addition to content in Dutch, the website has occasional news about sortition in the Netherlands in English.

A recent item, for example, describes an interview of David Van Reybrouck on Dutch TV on the topic of citizens’ assemblies on climate change – the one in France and a potential one in the Netherlands. In the interview, we learn, Van Reybrouck tells the story of how he met President Macron and how that led to the creation of the French convention citoyenne pour le climat:

Then the interviewer wants to know more on how Van Reybrouck managed to sell the concept of sortition to the French president, Mr. Macron. Van Reybrouck already told about this in the interview on BNR Newsradio a year ago, but now we get to hear some additional details. When one of the guests at the lunch table points out to Macron that Van Reybrouck is working on ‘a revolutionary model for democracy’, Macron immediately gets very interested, forgets about the food on his plate, and concludes after a thirty-minute converstation with Van Reybrouck on sortition: “C’est formidable! C’est formidable!” (That’s wonderful! That’s wonderful!) and expresses “Merci, merci infiniment!” (Thank you so much!) at the end of the conversation. Two weeks later, his prime minister started talking about sortition-based citizens’ assemblies on tv, resulting in the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat, the French Citizens’ Assmembly (CA) on Climate Change.

Kerlouan: Macron treats the allotted citizens like children

Philippe Kerlouan writes in Boulevard Voltaire.

Citizen Climate Convention: Macron treats the 150 allotted citizens like children…

One may ask oneself how can 150 citizens, selected by lot in order to create proposals for addressing global warming, be “France in miniature” and represent “all the significant sections of French society”, as the co-president of the governance committee of the Climate Convention asserted they are. One must believe that the allotment was balanced according to some statistical measurements. But nevermind! The Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles designated numerous officials using a lottery. Chance is maybe the most effective way to turn equality for all and social-professional diversity into a democratic system.

We should also have confidence in the people so selected and not consider them second class citizens. As they met on Friday, January 10th for another weekend of work, they were able to pose questions to Emmanuel Macron, who attend in person for the occasion. No doubt he had nothing better to do in these troubled times. One of the participants, quoted by the Le HuffPost, observed that it is “scandalous that he chose this date in order to clown around in front of the Convention whereas he would have done better to take care of the pensions”. But our president must have had his reasons.
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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!
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Comments by members of the French Citizen Climate Convention

Thomas Baïetto of Franceinfo has talked to 9 members of the French Citizen Climate Convention and reports their comments about their work.

Sylvain, a 45 year old Parisian marketing manager, says that before he was allotted he used to be “a cynical Parisian” rahter than an environmental activist. He does not hide his enthusiasm about this assembly of “citizen superheros, somewhere between Jaurès and Léon Blum” and about its complex mission.

“I was skeptical at first. I was thinking that these 150 people, if there were as ignorant as I am , that is going to be difficult,” says Grégoire, 31 year old from Caen. The first months of work, spread over a several weekend sessions in Paris, have convinced him that there is a possibility of formulating proposals that are “strong, powerful and acceptable by the population.”

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Mellier-Wilson: More on the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat

Claire Mellier-Wilson, “Systems Change and Participation Practitioner”, has a lengthy and informative article about the French Citizen Climate Convention, with details about its origins, its organization, proceedings and schedule and the people and bodies involved.

One rather interesting detail is as follows:

Themes and group work

Alongside plenary discussions where all 150 citizens stay together, the Convention members are also working in groups.

The 150 citizens have been split into five groups of 30 people covering five themes: ‘Se deplacer’ transport, ‘Se nourir’ food, ‘Consommer’ consumption, ‘Travailler et produire’ work and production, ‘Se loger’ housing. The selection of the citizens in each group was done by lot in order to prevent people from choosing their preferred subjects and this introducing an element of bias into the process.

A cross-cutting group, called ‘escouade’ was created after the second session in November 2019, at the request of the citizens, in order to look at overarching topics relevant to all five themes such as: the financing of measures, communication, engagement, education and training, constitutional reform, energy production and consumption, protection of the natural environment and biodiversity. An overview of the transverse topics can be found in the summary of session 3. However, it emerged that this cross-cutting group, based on the self-selection principle (rather than selection by lot) presented issues of legitimacy and had process implications, as it did run in parallel with the other five groups, and in effect was preventing people from being fully engaged with their original topic. Also, due to the subjects covered in the escouade (i.e. constitutional reform, finances etc.), it created tensions around the perceived more strategic nature of that group. As a result, the Governance Committee decided to suspend the escouade. Going forward, the topics from the escouade will be dealt with via different mechanisms as announced by Thierry Pech, Co-chair of the Convention, at the end of Session 4.

Citizen Climate Convention: Become a Democratic Assembly!

An open letter to the members of the French Citizen Climate Convention from several mass-action environmental organizations was recently published in Reporterre – a French environmental daily newspaper. [Original in French.]

A Citizen Climate Convention has been convening since October 4 over the course of 6 sessions of three days each until the upcoming January. How to make sure this unprecedented test of collective democracy, which gives 150 allotted citizens the power to deliberate measures for reducing France’s CO2 emissions by at least 40% in 10 years, does not end up as a tool of self-promotion for a government whose real policy for the last two years has been so blatantly anti-environmental that it forces Nicolas Hulot, its very moderate minister of the environment, to resign? That is possible if the allotted rely on their popular legitimacy in order to change the nature and the objective of their upcoming deliberations. It is for this democratic usurpation that we are calling.

What is it that makes you legitimate, more legitimate in any case than the committee that is supposed to “govern” you? It is not that fact that you were allotted according to social-professional or geographic “representivity” criteria defined by the polling institute. This representativity has no democratic value. The fact that an allotted woman is a self-employed resident of Brittany like me does not in any way guarantee that she would faithfully represent my political convictions. It is therefore not the allotment according to social-professional categories which makes you close to your fellow citizens, but rather the fact that you share their situation of democratic dispossession. In these dying days of this deceptive regime of “representative democracy”, we are all reduced to being nothing more than private individuals, deprived of any meaningful political power.
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The Climate Convention: Technocratic illusions and pseudo-direct democracy

An article in Liberation by Salvador Juan, professor of sociology at the university of Caen and researcher at the Center for Study of Risks and Vulnerabilities. Original in French.

The Climate Convention: Technocratic illusions and pseudo-direct democracy

How are the 150 citizens who are supposed to embody the people as they face the climatic challenge supposed to reach reasoned conclusions after a few weekends of work whereas expert researchers spend years in order to understand the complexities of energetic and ecological issues?

If there is a useful concept for defining what the government is doing, it is that of technocracy. Being neither right-wing nor left-wing but promoting progress and growth, technocracy is defined by the identification of the general interest with that of the powerful organizations which manage it – the electronuclear generators, the petrochemical conglomerates, the high speed trains or the industrial agriculture of the 1970’s.

Another characteristic of this new (at the historical scale) power, in which the great state bodies are surpassed by private ones, is the requirement for legitimization by the creation of social demand and of popular support for its products. As opposed to classical economic theories, according to which supply adapts to demand, this power implies the fashioning of daily life according to the products of an industry which is unconcerned with the ecological or health consequences of its activities as long as it can make a profit, either economic or symbolic, related to its image.

Finally the last important characteristic of this new power is contempt for intermediary bodies – associations or unions. It is a quasi-royalist and popular fantasy of a direct relation between a central authority and a mass of atomised citizens, a notion whose dangers for democracy were already described by Tocqueville.[1]
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