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Macron in France explores The Politics of Consultation…

President launches nationwide consultation.

We can’t be absolutely certain that President Macron has been reading The Politics of Consultation, but someone clearly has. In a textbook response to a political crisis, the French President has challenged his turbulent population to share with him, their opinions through a nationwide consultation. Specifically, he wants to know their views on taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship.

In his own words: –

“je veux que cette consultation soit organisée en toute indépendance, et soit encadrée par toutes les garanties de loyauté et de transparence”.

We are not great linguists here in the Institute office but we think he says:

I want the consultation to be organised independentlyguaranteeing loyalty and transparency.”

 We have three comments:

  1. This is yet more proof that consultation is a more universal phenomenon – and not a peculiar and dated Anglo-saxon construct which led academics and others to dismiss it as irrelevant to modern democracies. It enables policy-makers and politicians to listen to views in a systematic way – without being committed to following a majority view. It is a way to obtain qualitative input, and better than just counting heads (Referendum-fans please note)
  2. It’s better late than never, but is always best done well in advance. Politicians who fail to consult early can get into the most terrible mess, and then suddenly experience a Damascene conversion and discover it’s a rather useful way to help solve their problem. For a classic example look no further than Theresa May’s travails (good French word for these purposes!) during the 2017 election. She produced a Manifesto containing a contentious proposal for funding social care, and when challenged, immediately back-tracked by promising a full consultation on the topic. We are still waiting!
  3. Once committed to consultation, Macron will find that he creates expectations which he will need to fulfil. In the UK, consultees are steadily acquiring meaningful rights (Try our Consultee Rights Workshop), mostly thanks to Judges who have intervened to stop consultors from merely going through the motions. In particular, Courts are insisting that people be told the truth about what is proposed, so proper, well-researched impact assessments are essential.

At this stage, the French President is undertaking a scoping consultation – trying to discover what exactly needs to be addressed. But make no mistake, once he brings forward practical proposals, the same people who helped him identify the issue will want to have a say on the merits of various options. And, unlike Parliaments, they will not be palmed off with single-option solutions. Governments can often get their way with confronting their legislatures with a fait accompli and dare MPs or Deputies to vote against them. In a truly consultative system, that does not work.

Now ponder what has just happened in Westminster …

Ring any bells?

About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

Read more about Rhion

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