A big bang of democracy

22. February 2022
Ville de Carpentras

In the southern French city of Carpentras, democracy has been experiencing a "big bang" since 2021. There, not only a randomly selected citizens' assembly was introduced, but also citizens' amendments, a participatory budget and referendums.

The 35 members of the citizens' assembly are randomly selected for one year. At the beginning of their work, they are informed about the workings of the city administration. In the course of their term of office, they are invited to monthly meetings on various occasions such as meetings of the city council or to accompany the participatory budget.

Tasks of the citizens' assembly

The tasks of the citizens' assembly include contact with the elected representatives in the city council. The participants receive draft resolutions that the city council is dealing with. In addition, they can demand accountability from the mayor and his 1st deputy if necessary.

The citizens' assembly also contributes to the development and evaluation of local citizen participation. It also informs the city council about citizens' concerns and proposals and can debate issues that fall within the city's remit.

Control over participatory budgeting

With regard to the participatory budget the citizens' assembly has the task of ensuring that the procedure runs smoothly and that its rules are observed. It checks the admissibility of the ideas submitted within the framework of the participatory budget. In cooperation with municipal departments, the citizens' assembly decides whether the selected projects will be put to the vote. The assembly also takes care of the implementation of the participatory budget projects and evaluates them.

"It's a great idea," says 69-year-old Marie Josée, who was randomly selected for the first Citizens' Assembly in 2021: "It's a very good idea to find out what happens behind the walls of City Hall." As the youngest assembly participant, 18-year-old Océane had set herself the goal of "improving the lives of the citizens of Carpentras".

"Participate in community life"

The oldest participant in the first Citizens' Assembly was 94 years old. Jacques Leclerc wants to improve communal democracy: "I don't do politics and I don't want to do politics. But I want to participate in community life". The former soldier already had certain topics in mind: "Security, cleanliness of the city, budget."

"I will have arguments and put them forward. Most people go to vote in elections and afterwards it's 'vote for me and leave me alone'. That's not my style and I don't want it to be the style of this citizens' assembly, Leclerc said.

"People don't want to remain passive anymore"

Mayor Serge Andrieu encourages the citizens to participate in the citizens' assembly. For him, "it's enough to have ideas. That's all we ask of them. What we wanted was for people to come and believe. People don't want to be passive and wait anymore. That's good."

In addition to the citizens' assembly, there is also a participatory budget. With this, residents can give money to projects they favour for implementation. 700,000 per year is available for this purpose. This corresponds to 25 euros per inhabitant.

Participatory budget from 16

Participatory budgeting is open to all Carpentras residents over the age of 16, as well as to all taxpayers, and allows everyone to express their creativity for the common good. Most importantly, participants can vote on which projects should be implemented.

In relation to city council decisions, citizens can propose amendments to draft resolutions that will be presented to the city council for decision. Two weeks before each city council meeting, a summary of the proposals is published on the city's website. Amendments can be submitted online.

Amendments in the city council

Proposed amendments are submitted to all citizens online for a vote. They have up to 48 hours before the meeting to cast their vote. If two percent of all eligible voters (380 people in 2022) support the proposal, the amendment is presented to the city council and discussed there. There it can be accepted, rejected or referred to the relevant committee.

"There will be an exchange, a discussion with the councillors, they will have the possibility to withdraw a decision, to change it, to improve it," Mayor Andrieu explained when announcing this new procedure.

Yellow waistcoats demand implemented

Citizens can use a popular initiative to request a referendum on a municipal policy issue. If ten per cent of those eligible to vote sign the initiative within nine months, a referendum will be held. This form of direct democracy was part of the demands of the yellow waistcoat movement that was very active in France a few years ago.

"With this concrete tool, every citizen can exercise the power that is theirs, control the actions of the mayor and elected representatives, and act for what they think is a priority for our city," explains Mayor Andrieu.

"Giving citizens means and tools"

Mayor Serge Andrieu is also to thank for the existence of all these democracy tools. In office since 2018, he had made the "democratic big bang" his central campaign theme in the 2020 election campaign. "It is not just about giving citizens the floor, the goal is to give them the means and tools to take concrete action," Andrieu had explained at the time.

Read more: Le Big Bang de la Démocratie Municipale