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“In the Assembly, novice deputies are cannon fodder”

A baker, a chambermaid, environmental activists, activists from working-class neighborhoods… several neophytes to politics are campaigning to enter the National Assembly after the legislative elections on 12th and 19th June. These novices, the sociologist Étienne Ollion, researcher at the CNRS and professor at the École Polytechnique, knows them well.

In The candidates. Newbies and Professionals in Politics (UFP), he investigated in immersion at the National Assembly, in 2017, with new deputies. Emmanuel Macron had just won the presidential election and brought into the National Assembly more than a hundred citizens who had no political experience, profiles that have become increasingly rare in recent decades. »explains Étienne Ollion to Reporterre. The sociologist followed them early in the morning and late at night, in the hemicycle or in their constituency »for observe what experience does to politics ». Maintenance.

Reporterre — In the National Assembly, is it essential to be represented by elected officials who look like us ?

Etienne Ollion — This question is both fascinating and haunting. From its beginnings to the end of XVIIIe century, representative democracy was built on the idea that we do not need be » to represent: you don’t need to be a woman to defend the interests of women, to be disabled to represent the disabled, to be poor to represent and take care of the poor. However, since the American revolution [1765 à 1783]this idea fueled lively debates among the founding fathers of the United States.

Is it necessary be » to represent ? Even from a social science perspective, the answer is not obvious. But we know that when an assembly has no representative in a given group, it very often forgets the interests of this group. You don’t necessarily need to come personally from a group to defend it, but it’s better to be able to count on people who live, in their flesh, the same reality: the experience of poverty, dominations, the consequences of climate change. This is essential, if only to enrich the debate, to make other elected officials aware of problems of which they are not aware, since they do not experience them.

Having a more diverse Assembly is also important for citizens to feel represented. We see it very clearly now: Parliament is extremely homogeneous and quite elitist, there are almost no more popular classes, workers, employees. The result is a strong feeling of non-representation and great democratic fatigue, with citizen movements asserting their rejection of elected officials. If the next legislative elections make it possible to have more social diversity in the Assembly, we can think that several groups will feel better in our democracy.

Did Emmanuel Macron succeed in renewing the Assembly in 2017? ?

Emmanuel Macron has changed heads, it is undeniable. A hundred novices arrived at the Assembly, whereas they had never been even inserted in a party. This is new, since politics had clearly become more professional in recent decades, to the point that what I call a waiting line » of parliamentary candidates. With LREMin 2017, the Assembly also became much more feminized, with almost 40 % of women, compared to 27 % previously. It has also become younger, the ushers sometimes had difficulty in distinguishing the deputies from their collaborators.

Macron got the most socially elitist Parliament in the Ve Republic. »

But paradoxically, these new MPs came mainly from the middle or upper classes, so Emmanuel Macron produced the most socially homogeneous Parliament for more than a century. For five years, the working classes — nearly 50 % of the French population — are hardly represented in the Assembly. Even changing 72 % of heads, he obtained the most socially elitist Parliament of the Ve Republic, even for more than a century. The Assembly was never a Parliament mirror » of French society, but before, there was the CPFand to a lesser extent the PS, to integrate people from the working classes. In 2017, it was the purge.

Changing faces, as the New Popular Ecological and Social Union (Nupes) is trying to do this year, will this make it possible to change policy ?

In any case, it contributes to it. I am thinking in particular of the work of Nicholas Carnes [1], which showed that elected workers in the US Congress voted differently from members from the upper classes. They were the ones who introduced the most left-wing measures. From a different perspective, there is also the book by Franco-American Hélène Landemore [2]which demonstrates that a diverse assembly promotes better decision-making, producing greater collective intelligence.

The novices of 2017 have been relegated to the background. »

But changing heads will not be enough. We would be greatly disappointed in believing it. Without changing the democratic game, nothing really changes. During my investigation, I tried to see if the novices of 2017 had managed to take important positions in the Assembly, to carry texts of law. They have very clearly been relegated to the background.

They lacked knowledge of how parliamentary procedure works and how to support ; they served as legislative cannon fodder. We made use of the novices: their contribution consisted above all in raising their hands, in the hemicycle, at the time of the votes. Political professionals, on the other hand, know when to make phone calls to the ministries, to keep themselves informed of future laws to position themselves as rapporteur, to have an amendment, etc.

Is it possible to give them more power, by changing the rules of the game ?

It’s entirely possible. In France, for example, the deputies have only three collaborators. This serves those with the least experience. In other countries, more support is given to MEPs, with more collaborators or administrators from the Assembly who help them do their job. In the United States, they have between 20 and 40 assistants. In Germany, they have collectively, at the level of the parliamentary groups, 300 specialized assistants on various subjects. We can go in this direction: re-equip parliamentarians, and therefore help novices.

To obtain a more representative assembly, it is also possible to change the voting method. With the proportional, it would be much more difficult to have a monochrome assembly from the upper classes. The parties couldn’t hide behind their little finger if they introduced only well-to-do white men into the Assembly, that would be more obvious than letting voters choose them one by one from the 577 constituencies.

Yet another option: change the Constitution to restore power to Parliament, which today is corseted both by the pre-eminence of the President of the Republic and a Constitution that has introduced measures to discipline Parliament. I am thinking in particular of the famous article 49-3, which allows the government to pass an entire text of law, without debate, but there are many other measures which make Parliament constrained.

With all this, France could finally have a powerful civil society, within an Assembly that is itself stronger.

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