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23 May 2013

French gvt reduces the number of advisory committees

The high number of standing advisory committees is one of the specific traits about the French approach to consultation: but once set up, the committees tend to survive their usefulness and continue to cost the taxpayer and the officials in charge of supporting them. This is why we regularly see "clean-up" operations with the government taking the axe to the forest of committees. Following ad hoc inventories and deletions from 2002 to 2005, a more general approach was adopted by a décret dated 8 June 2006, which reviewed the operating rules valid for all committees, making it more difficult to create a new body, time-limiting its existence (5 years), and streamlining its operation. In an apparently drastic move, the décret also programmed the elimination of all existing committees to take effect three years later, unless they had been re-instated in the meantime. This approach was necessary, but does not per se improve the quality of the consultation process. Also, since then, new ad hoc bodies have been created, a new clearing operation had become necessary. It has now been conducted within the simplification policy, and enacted by government in a décret approved by the Council of Ministers on 22 May. For more on the Government's approach, please refer to circular (standing instruction) dated 30 November 2012.
The system suffers from the sheer number, but also from a lack of effectiveness of the consultation process, with insufficient flexibility to adjust to different topics and stakeholders. The "open" consultation method, which employs a variety of channels, including IT supported media, to collect stakeholder views, was legalised by the 5th simplification law (17 May 2010) in its article 16 but no overall assessment of the policy has yet been conducted from a better regulation point of view.
A good example of application of the new open consultation is being given with a series of public hearings on the "energy transition", involving 1500 citizens, or the consultation on the modernisation of environmental law.

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