The French Parliament, does it have a future?

Our National Parliament, as a democratic organ, draws reasons for its existence from our Greco-Latin roots. Later, with the new regime, this institution assumed all its dimension upon instituting the separation of powers and therefore, a safeguard vis-à-vis the Executive authority.

However, today, the French Parliament faces two questions: is it still useful and can we still afford it?

Certain Contrib’City readers are probably going to be shocked by the title of this article. But as shocking as it may seem outwardly, our view must go through the pomp linked with this national institution, to turn to another geographical dimension – the one that of the continent – and also analyse the fiscal problem or otherwise called the Debt.

First of all, we must reassure our readers: the choice of a democratic regime is by no means called to question. We will plainly share the point of view of Winston Churchill: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Then why exactly challenge the French parliament when we just cited one of the most remarkable modern features/figures of a parliamentary regime?

In fact, the question does not concern so much the word Parliament but instead the adjective French of the title of the article. Today, the European Parliament, which exists since 1952 (Initially, the European Parliament, called the Assembly, only had an advisory role) but which obtained a real political role only until 1971 (budgetary competence), decides on laws for the entire European Union. This pillar of the EU, because it is the only European institution to be directly elected, decides on 75% of the laws in France. The European Treaty, to the great displeasure of some nationalist political parties, further obliges all local legislative texts to comply with the laws of our supra-national Union. For this, the European Parliament provides itself with 705 deputies, united in a single chamber, and carries out its legislative work for a union of 27 Member States.

The European Parliament too extends its influence beyond the European Union. Indeed, the countries that have signed treaties with the EU must vote on the laws, related to these treaties, in accordance with the European law. Switzerland, for example, could not have economic agreements with the European Union (which represents half of Swiss exports) if the former did not respect, in practice, the freedom of movement of people, goods and services. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, disagreeing with this principle of freedom, withdrew from the EU.

We therefore have a democratic institution, at a continental level, which enacts the legislative framework for the daily life of around 450 million Europeans.

Within this context, the French Parliament only has to pass laws for adaptation to the French territory, for a population of 65 million inhabitants with a single language (for how long before the introduction of English?). Within the French Parliament, we have the National Assembly which has 577 deputies and the Senate which manages 348 senators: 925 legislators in total. This represents, compared to the European Parliament, almost a third more parliamentarians for a population almost seven times smaller.

Let us now look at the question of the operating costs of the French Parliament, in comparison with that of the EU.

The operating budget of the European Parliament, for the year 2019, was almost 2 billion euros (€1,999,144,000 to be exact, including €170,109,900 of own resources). What about the French Parliament? The budget of the National Assembly, in 2019, amounted to 583,794,378 euros. And that of the Senate, in 2019, amounted to €323,584,600. This represents a total of more than 907 million euros for the bicameral system (Legislative organization which has two chambers. Generally, it is a “lower house” for the “people” and a “upper chamber” from the “notables” of the country. The European Union has not retained this bicameral system which may look like a vestige of the past. From the lower Latin camera which means chamber). Our French legislative system therefore costs the equivalent of 45% of the budget of the European Parliament but for a population almost six times less.

Three possible solutions emerge. But they can make a few teeth grind.

Firstly, abolish the Senate. Horror! You will tell me. Until that, I will refuse you. Indeed, this chamber only has an advisory effect: when the Senate opposes the National Assembly, the vote of the latter trumps. The political utility of the French Upper House is therefore very relative. On the other hand, this abolition would result in savings for the French Parliament of more than a third of its operating budget.

Then, since the French Parliament ultimately only has a role of local adaptation to the laws voted by the European Parliament, are we obliged to finance 577 local deputies, that is to say the equivalent of more than 80 % of the legislators of our European Parliament which, itself, manages six times more inhabitants?

Two avenues are open, with the possibility of mixing: either drastically lower the operating costs of French deputies who, as a result, would keep their jobs prior to their mandate, as is the case in Switzerland; or reduce the number of legislators. We could, for example, move to an Assembly with one regional representative per political party. This representative must respect his obligations vis-à-vis the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life. He must have collected at least 5% of the votes within the regional territory of which he would be the candidate, all for a whole of eighteen regions. We would total around a hundred deputies who, because while continuing their jobs that they occupied before, would remain well in contact with the realities that their compatriots must live. Subsequently, this organization would make the legislators perhaps freer in relation to eventual (political) careers.

The budget of this Assembly would be voted by a body independent of the latter.

Anyway, in the view of a French State which is indebted by almost six times its income taking its commitments into account, the current system is not only no longer sustainable but urgently requires structural reform. The European Union, through its democratic organization, offers us opportunities that would have seemed unimaginable to most people less than a century ago. Let us take advantage of this institution to do away with French decorum, for which we no longer have the means to, and highlight our local realities through a simple, effective proportional parliamentary election that serves no more ambitions of power but of citizens confronted with an often difficult daily-life.

Let us make our reforms: before others force us to do so, and not necessarily in a democratic and gentle way, but simply by virtue of an immutable principle: every debt must be repaid.

European Parliament, Altiero Spinelli building seen from the Agora Simone Veil (Brussels, Belgium). Photo: Benoit Brummer / Wikipedia. 30th March 2022.

(Cover photo: The French National Assembly, Palais-Bourbon, as seen from the opposite bank of the Seine, in Paris. Acknowledgements: Jebulon / Wikipedia. 8th june 2011.)

Translation: Vidhi Taparia, B. de Foucauld.

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