THE BLOG
09/02/2014 11:19 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2014

Who Wants to Practice Politics?

As everybody knows, the French Parliament has too many civil servants and not enough private-sector workers. In the current Parliament, 55 percent of members of the National Assembly are from the public sector (in the wide sense, because they include not only faculty members, but also an increasing number of territorial officials, parliamentary attachés and administrators of services at the National Assembly). By contrast, if there are still many lawyers and physicians among them, who for a long time were majority in Parliament, only 15 percent of elected representatives are private sector executives and engineers; there is no worker in the National Assembly. None.

This composition clearly has consequences on the nature of laws passed: They show a high level of ignorance about corporate realities, and in particular the practical requirements of their implementation, accumulating standard upon standard, constraint upon constraint, till they become unachievable. This also has an impact on the composition of the government and the nature of the decisions taken therein; to the point where one is led to look entranced when hearing a Prime Minister declare his love for companies, statement that should be banal in any balanced country.

For comparison purposes, in the United Kingdom, 24 percent of parliamentarians are private sector executives or businessmen, 10 percent are civil servants and teachers, and 4 percent are workers. The reason for this distortion is known: In France, parliamentarians from the public service benefit from the system of "secondment," in which all rights within the seconding administration are retained for a civil servant holding elected office, including pension entitlements during term of office. This is in addition to the guarantee of finding a job in the case of defeat in the elections. As for lawyers and physicians, they can continue to practice their profession during their electoral mandate. Conversely, the few MPs from the private sector have to leave their jobs as soon as they become parliamentarians, and when they cease to be one, they only receive unemployment benefits for MPs. This can last up to six semesters but on a sharp declining basis (100 percent of the basic salary for the first semester, then 70 percent for the second, 50 percent for the third, 40 percent for the fourth, 30 percent for the fifth and finally 20 percent for the last semester. They have absolutely no assurance whatsoever of finding work again.

Many feel that in order to rebalance the system, privileges should be taken away from civil servants and they should be forced to resign from public service at the time of their election. Such a decision would obviously reduce the number of civil servants being candidates in the elections, but it would do nothing to encourage private sector employees to run for office. A much better solution would be, as Michelin just decided, to ensure that any employee elected as a parliamentarian, will get his job and salary back in the same firm, after he leaves the Parliament.

Of course, such a mechanism is not easy to implement: a private company may, after one or two mandates of his employee, not be in a position to offer him such an advantage; it may even have disappeared by then. But the number of parliamentarians concerned at the end of each legislature would never exceed two or three hundred; and is not high enough so that it becomes impossible on a public guarantee to support such a commitment.

The Parliament would be honored to lend its support to this law, which, for once, would serve no particular interest. It would deprive these people, far too many, who love to criticize politicians, an excuse not to seek election themselves....

No doubt there will be a need later to ask the question on how to fight against other imbalances in the national representation, where so many women and minority representatives are lacking.

No doubt it would be also necessary to ask why an increasing number of those elected, from the Right as well as the Left, prefer to place themselves in opposition, as is evident from the meetings of La Rochelle and Le Touquet, leaving a boulevard to the only ones who seem to be on a quest for power today, the far right.

The raison d'être of politics is to govern.

j@attali.com

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