Economic and Social Council renewed

Download article in original language : FR9910115NFR.DOC

In September 1999, France's consultative Economic and Social Council was renewed for five years. It elected Jacques Dermagne of the MEDEF employers' confederation as its new chair.

The Economic and Social Council (Conseil économique et social) was renewed for five years in early September 1999. On 28 September 1999, it elected Jacques Dermagne of the MEDEF employers' confederation as its chair for a two-and-a-half-year term. This is the first time since its inception in 1947 that the Economic and Social Council (formerly named the Economic Council) has chosen a chair from the ranks of the employers.

The Council, which is made up of 231 members, is a consultative assembly provided for in the Constitution of the French Republic. It is designed to foster cooperation between the different socio-professional categories and to ensure they have a say in the government's economic and social policies. The make-up of the council is fixed by law. Apart from 40 "qualified" individuals appointed by the cabinet, the Council is composed of:

  • 68 representatives of trade union organisations (CFDT- 17, CFE-CGC- seven, CFTC- six, CGT- 17, CGT-FO- 17, UNSA-FEN- three and FSU- one);
  • 10 representatives of state-owned companies;
  • 27 representatives of private companies (MEDEF, CGPME for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the Chambers of Commerce and Industry);
  • 31 representatives of the agricultural sector;
  • 10 representatives of the self-employed crafts sector;
  • 10 representatives of family associations;
  • three representatives of the liberal professions;
  • 10 representatives of the cooperative sector;
  • nine representatives of overseas départementsand territories;
  • four representatives of French nationals abroad;
  • five representatives of associations; and
  • four representatives of mutual insurance and credit organisations.

The Council is divided into groups corresponding to specific organisations or business sectors, and into sections for the purpose of examining various issues.

The Council must be consulted on "all plans or bills of an economic or social character" (section 70 of the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic). In addition, draft bills, bills and orders in council or any other social and economic issue can be referred to the Council, on the initiative of either the government or its own members.

However, this assembly, which operates very much on the basis of consensus, has had difficulties in making its voice heard. Successive governments have officially consulted the Economic and Social Council only 18 times over the past five years, compared with 35 times in the previous five-year period. What is more, of the 100 or so reports and studies completed by the Council over the past five years, only a handful have been used by either the government or public authorities. In addition, the Council often waives the right to tackle current topical issues on its own initiative. It has taken a position neither on the 35-hour working week (FR9910197N) nor on universal health insurance (couverture maladie universelle, CMU), (FR9902153F).

The debate prior to the election of the new Council chair - pitting Mr Dermagne against Jean Mattéoli (a "qualified" member, former Minister for Labour and outgoing chair) and André Roulet (CGT-FO) - brought this unsatisfactory situation and the issues surrounding the future of the Economic and Social Council to the surface. Responding indirectly to these issues, the new chair has stated that the Council is the forum where "civil society should air its views."

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