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France

France

5. Participation

5.1 General context

On this page
  1. Main concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy

Main concepts

 

Several definitions and concepts enable the political participation of young French people to be understood and characterised. It is important, on the one hand, to speak of the notion of “commitment”, and, on the other, of the notions of “intermittent participation” and “protest commitment”.

 

Commitment

By definition, commitment is “the action of binding oneself through a promise or an agreement”; that implies not only a commitment to others, but also to oneself. The notion of commitment that lies at the heart of participation has a moral connotation that is still compelling today, including when we speak of political commitment. Commitment is seen as a civic duty, which partly explains the calls to commitment aimed at young people by public authorities.

 

According to several surveys (the annual DJEPVA (Department for Youth, Non-Formal Education and Voluntary Organisation - (Direction de la jeunesse, de l’éducation populaire et de la vie associative)/INJEP (National Institute for Youth and Non-Formal Education - Institut National de la Jeunesse et de l’Éducation Populaire) Barometer on youth published in 2020), young French people's commitment is driven by the desire to help others, to defend a cause, to make themselves useful within society, as well as to train and assert themselves as individuals and citizens.

Polls and surveys also show that young people are not interested in traditional forms of commitment, i.e. membership of a party, trade union or association, and in particular in political commitment. This situation does not, however, indicate a lack of interest in politics, as young people's involvement takes varied and new forms. The preferred methods of participation for young people today are more informal, ad hoc and spontaneous, which can also be observed in the area of political involvement, but also when it comes to electoral participation.

 

Intermittent participation

Generally speaking, young people are more likely to abstain from voting than adults. However, young people’s political (electoral) participation varies according to their age range as well as the challenges and the intensity of campaigns; abstention is not a practice that is specific to young people. Young people’s behaviour increasingly takes the form of “intermittent participation” characterised by a selective approach to voting. Some researchers even speak of a “civic moratorium” to describe the attitude of young French people to voting, an attitude that involves not wanting to take part in certain elections.

 

Protest commitment

This selective commitment on the part of young French people does not necessary imply depoliticisation since, in spite of intermittent participation, young people feel more concerned by politics compared to preceding generations. Furthermore, the choice to abstain can appear as a political act in itself. A study carried out in 2010 by the INJEP – National Institute for Youth and Non-Formal Education  highlights rising politicisation amongst young people, especially the development of “protest commitment” (Roudet, B.: “Des jeunes davantage impliqués et plus protestataires”, “Young people are increasingly involved and more inclined to protest”), Jeunesses études et synthèses, no. 2, November 2010). That expression reflects the forms of action and of political participation that young people prefer nowadays. Petitions and demonstrations as well as modes of mobilisation via social networks and other digital tools make up some of those “protest” practices and arrangements that are renewed by young people and  popular with them.

 

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Digital participation

Digital tools and social networks are playing an increasingly important role in the ways in which young people participate. In 2019, according to the DJEPVA (Department for Youth, Non-Formal Education and Voluntary Organisation - (Direction de la jeunesse, de l’éducation populaire et de la vie associative) barometer on youth by the National Institute for Youth and Non-formal Education and CREDOC (Research Centre for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions, Centre de recherche pour l'étude et l'observation des conditions de vie), "signing a petition or defending a cause via the internet, a blog or a social network" is the most cited form of participation by 18-30 year olds, ahead of bénévolat, collective action or, even more so, activism. Moreover, online participation is constantly increasing.

According to a report by the National Institute for Youth and Non-Formal Education (INJEP - Institut National de la Jeunesse et de l’Éducation Populaire) by researcher Julien Boyadjian, this digital participation 'contradicts, or at least qualifies, the media and political discourse describing young people as "disengaged, apolitical, individualistic and apathetic"' (Becquet, Goyette, 2014). Despite their lower electoral participation (Muxel, 2002), young people are in fact no less interested in politics [...] and social media with forms of action that are more in line with their ideals'.

 

Source: Boyadjian J., 2020, La participation politique en ligne des jeunes à travers le prisme des inégalités socio-culturelles [Youth political participation online through the prism of socio-cultural inequality], INJEP, Notes & rapports/Rapport d’étude.

Becquet V., Goyette M., 2014, “L’engagement des jeunes en difficulté”, Sociétés et jeunesses en difficulté [The commitment of vulnerable young people], no 14, (https://journals.openedition.org/sejed/7828).

 

Institutions of representative democracy

 

Political regime

The political regime that is currently in force in the French State is the Fifth Republic, of which the functioning is organised and defined by the Constitution of 4 October 1958.

The Fifth Republic is a semi-presidential regime in which the President of the Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term. The regime is a hybrid one that combines features of the parliamentary regime and of the presidential regime. Executive power is dual in nature, and is personified by the President and the Prime Minister, who work in conjunction with the legislative power.

The Head of State appoints the Prime Minister, chairs the Council of Ministers, and promulgates laws; in addition, she / he can dissolve the National Assembly. In the event of a serious crisis, the Head of State can exercise exceptional powers (article 16 of the Constitution).

The Prime Minister is responsible to Parliament in accordance with article 20 of the Constitution, which means that a Prime Minister who no longer enjoys the confidence of Parliament is required to resign. The Prime Minister’s role is to direct government action and ensure that laws are properly applied (article 21 of the Constitution).

The political organisation of the French State is characterised by a certain amount of centralisation. However, over the last 30 years, it has undergone a process of decentralisation during which the State has gradually transferred its competences to local authoritiesdépartements, regions, municipalities, and EPCI – Public Establishments for Intermunicipal Co-operation (Établissements Publics de Coopération Intercommunale), which have their own decision-making bodies.

 

Representative bodies

Under the Fifth Republic, the principal democratic and, especially, legislative body is the (bicameral) Parliament, which is made up of the National Assembly and the Senate. The two assemblies enjoy equal rights when it comes to legislative procedures. However, as a last resort, if there is a conflict with the Senate, the Prime Minister can ask the National Assembly to determine the matter.

  • The National Assembly is made up of 577 members elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term.
  • The Senate is made up of 348 senators elected by direct universal suffrage for six-year terms by a college of about 150 000 electors (of whom 95% are delegates from municipal councils). Half the Senate stands for election every three years, unlike the National Assembly, which is elected in full.

Other democratic (non-legislative) assemblies:

  • The Departement Council is the deliberative assembly of the département. Each of the 101 départements of France has a Département Council, which deliberates to regulate the affairs of the département in the areas of authority defined in law.
  • The Regional Council is the deliberative assembly of the region. Each of the 13 regions has a Regional Council, which deliberates to regulate the affairs of the region, of which the competences are defined in law.
  • .The Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental EESC) is the third constitutional assembly of the Republic. In 2021, the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) underwent a major reform that marks a historic turning point for the institution. It increases the role of civil society in the development of public policies, and makes the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) the crossroads of public consultations and a benchmark institution for citizen participation.

The Act of 15 January 2021 radically reforms the EESC's mission and operation, which have remained unchanged since the constitutional revision of July 2008 (Article 71 of the Constitution (new window)). This law aims to substantially incorporate new themes into its work. The reform is due to take effect in April 2021.

It provides for: 

  • a tighter composition of the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental), from 233 members to 175 members as of its next renewal (52 representatives of employees, 52 representatives of businesses, farmers, craftsmen, the liberal professions, mutual societies, cooperatives and consular chambers, 45 representatives for social and territorial cohesion and associative life and 26 representatives in connection with nature and environmental protection);
  • the creation of a code of ethics applicable to its members but also to external persons participating in its work;
  • the possibility of wider consultation of the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) in the exercise of its powers;
  • simplification of referrals to the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) by means of petitions (with, in particular, a reduction in the time limit to six months for issuing opinions and a reduction in the number of petitioners required from 500,000 to 150,000 signatures, as well as lowering the age limit to 16 years for petitioning);
  • the possibility of drawing lots to determine the participants in the Council's work.

 

In addition, a new measure encourages the participation of young people: being able to refer matters to the Council using a petition is now open to young people.

The conditions to be met in order to refer an economic, social or environmental issue to the Council by a petition have been considerably reduced:

  • Petitions submitted by electronic means will now be admissible; 
  • The minimum age for supporting or initiating a petition is lowered to 16;
  • The threshold for triggering a referral to the Council is lowered to 150,000 signatures

This modernisation of referral to the EESC Economic, Environmental and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental) by petition is a decisive step for citizens who, from the age of 16, will be able to make their voices heard. This development is fully in line with the EESC's mission of actively listening to society's expectations, which it has been working on for several years through its petitions monitoring system.

 

Forms of elections

Regardless of elections, electoral participation (voting) is non-compulsory, free, secret, strictly personal and by universal suffrage.

Presidential election

  • Elections are held every five years by direct universal suffrage, using a single-member, majority-vote system over two rounds.

Legislative elections

  • Elections are held every five years by direct universal suffrage, using a single-member, majority-vote system over two rounds.

Senatorial elections

  • Elections are held every three years by direct universal suffrage, using a majority-vote system over two rounds or a list-vote system depending on the number of senators to be elected from each département. In each département, the electors are the members of the National Assembly, regional councillors, département councillors, and delegates from municipal councils.

Municipal elections

  • Elections are held every six years by direct universal suffrage to appoint members of the municipal council, who will, in turn, elect the mayor (and her / his deputies).

Département elections

  • Elections are held every six years to appoint members of the département council, who will, in turn, elect a president of the département council by a two-member majority-vote system over two rounds for a six-year term.

Regional elections

  • Elections are held every six years for regional councillors, who, in turn, elect a president for a six-year term. Elections are on the basis of direct universal suffrage using a list-vote system over two rounds.