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French Government Plans to Introduce Proportional Representation

(May 22, 2018) On April 4, 2018, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced the government’s plans to reform the country’s Constitution and especially the electoral system. This proposed reform would implement one of President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promises to take steps towards a more representative and effective Parliament. (Baisse du nombre de parlementaires, proportionnelle… tout savoir sur la réforme des institutions [Reduction in the Number of Parliamentarians, Proportional Voting… Get to Know Everything About the Institutional Reform], LE FIGARO (Apr. 4, 2018).)

The Government’s Proposal for Electoral Law Reform

The reform proposals regarding electoral law contain the following aspects:

  • A 30% reduction in the number of members of Parliament, in both the Senate (Sénat), and the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale). Hence, the number of the representatives (députés) in the National Assembly would decrease from 577 to 404 and the number of senators from 348 to 244.
  • Members of Parliament are prohibited from performing more than three “identical, complete and consecutive” political mandates at the same time (“dual mandates” or cumul des mandats). The former French tradition of mayors being elected as parliamentarians simultaneously (maire-député, maire-senateur) that was abolished in 2017 is to return in principle: only mayors of larger municipalities (of 9,000 inhabitants and more) would be prohibited from performing a dual mandate by this new provision.
  • The government proposes that 15% of MPs be elected via a proportional voting system. (Id.)

 Legislative Requirements

The Constitution itself stipulates the maximum but not the exact number of parliamentarians. (CONSTITUTION art. 24.) The exact number of parliamentarians has been set at 577 MPs and 348 senators by the Electoral Code. (CODE ELECTORAL arts. LO119, LO274.)  Changing the number of parliamentary seats and limiting the number of political offices that can be served simultaneously require a change to what is called an institutional act or organic law (loi organique). (CONST. art. 25.) These are laws that specify the organization and functioning of the state and its institutions. These organic laws must be adopted according to a specific legislative procedure. (4. L’Assemblée vote la loi) [4. The Assembly Votes on the Law], ASSEMBLÉE NATIONALE (last visited May 21, 2018).) The electoral system by which the National Assembly is elected, however, can be changed through an ordinary law adopted with a simple majority of the votes cast in both chambers of Parliament.

Reactions

President Macron’s proposals have been subject to criticism because they link a reduction of seats in both houses of Parliament to the introduction of representatives elected through party lists. Reducing the numbers of senators and representatives might lead to a shift in power and weight of either of the two Houses if the current ratio of 0.6 senators to one representative is not maintained (there are currently 348 senators to 577 representatives). Furthermore, the reform could impact the representation of a number of constituencies, particularly in rural areas. (Bernard Rullier, La proportionnelle à l’Assemblée et la réduction du nombre de parlementaires, une réforme à risques [Proportional Representation in the National Assembly and the Reduction of Parliamentarians, a Risky Reform], HUFFPOST FRANCE (Oct. 9, 2017).)

Prepared by Johannes Jäger, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.