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Florence School of Transnational Governance

Odyssey Stories #1 - We never talked politics. We just put forward proposals

Welcome to the first installment of ‘Odyssey Stories’, a new series of interviews with organizers and participants of citizens’ assemblies across Europe and around the world.

24 April 2024

People Walking on the Street_blurred image_ GLOBALCIT Call for papers

The purpose of this series is to highlight what it feels like to experience a citizens’ assembly, and to shine light on the successes and failures of recent experiments in deliberative democracy.

In this discussion, we spoke with Philippe Mompard, one of the citizen panelists involved in the French Climate Convention which took place in 2019-20. Macron’s government initiated the Convention as a response to the Yellow Vest protests, in an attempt to quell public anger against rising fuel taxes. While many initially embraced the initiative, the mood quickly grew sour as it became clear that parliamentarians would refuse to implement the Convention’s recommendations.

We’d like to thank Mr. Mompard once again for sharing his take with us.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Philippe Mompard, I'm a pensioner and I live in the Lot department [Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France]. I was a refrigeration technician for 44 years. I worked for many years on my own, I had employees and I’ve been retired since 2019.

Do you remember your reaction when you were told you had the opportunity to take part in the Citizens' Climate Convention? Why did you accept the invitation?

At the beginning of July, I got a text on my mobile telling me about the Convention asking if I was interested in taking part. I had to say yes or no. I said yes. Just like that. Three weeks later, a lady called me to give me an outline of the convention, how it was going to work, where it was going to be, and so on. I figured I wasn't risking much after all, so I agreed. All expenses were covered, we were paid on the same basis as jurors. When I saw it, I said why not. So I signed up. Two and a half months later, I was surprised to get a call telling me that I'd been selected.

Were you already aware of climate issues before taking part in the Citizens' Climate Convention? And did everything that was done during the convention, i.e. the fact that you were paid, that it was the weekend, that it was in Paris, the fact that all that was taken into account, did that play a part in your agreeing to take part in the convention?

I'm ecologically aware and I try to be careful, but I wasn't really. No, I wasn't totally. It wasn't being paid that made me take the decision, but rather curiosity towards this form of participative democracy. I wanted to see how it would work, sharing ideas with people who didn't know each other. When I agreed, it was mainly to find that out, and then, if I could help out, to do so.

Interesting. So, in fact, it was curiosity about the form the Citizens' Assembly would take. It's true that I imagine it must be quite something to get involved in this kind of experiment.

It's extraordinary.

What did you think of the Citizens' Climate Convention? What worked well and, on the contrary, did you find that there were points that could be improved in the process?

We had to come up with proposals for measures, and they weren't proposals for legislation, they were proposals for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, while respecting social justice.

We were very well supervised: there was even a governance committee to oversee everything, to fact-check the information we were given. Afterwards, we exchanged our views and opinions amongst ourselves. We had the support of experts, yes, but we were asked what kind of experts we wanted. For example, I was in the "food safety" group, so we asked for experts from supermarkets, cooperatives and so on. From an organizational point of view, it was well organized.

What I do think could be improved is to get the message across to the public, because what I felt afterwards was that the people around us had the impression that we were there because we were at the President's beck and call. We weren't there to please the President, we were there to try and contribute about what we felt on a daily basis, what we experience on a daily basis, everyone's difficulties. There were 150 of us, the youngest was 17, the oldest 80, from all socio-professional categories. We're citizens like everyone else, with no political affiliations, we were there for everyone's benefit and not for any particular political interest. And I don't think that was sufficiently publicized in the media.

Do you remember a moment of deliberation on a specific subject, when you changed your mind?

Maybe with the experts we went into more detail, but changing my mind? Not really, because the reality of everyday life is that the more we eat products that aren't very healthy, it only confirms what we thought. I had the chance to speak three times with Madame Lambert, who was president of the FNSEA (National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions) at the time. We clearly understood that she wasn't there to promote clean agriculture, she was there to promote intensive agriculture, which brings in a lot of money for those who don't need it. These exchanges have been very enriching, we've gone into things in depth. However, it didn’t change our minds completely, either about pesticides or intensive fishing, because we already knew that this is causing enormous damage.

How did you feel when the proposals were listed by your working group? Do you remember that moment?

At each session, we had people designated by drawing lots exchanging ideas from one group to another, so that we could really know what was going on in the other groups. The last session was devoted to voting on the 149 proposals. So we voted on them all together, in the hemicycle, and it was a very substantial piece of work, a moment of sharing that crowned all the work we'd done over the months. Initially, we were only supposed to do four sessions, but they added a few more because we said we were there to work, we're not there to see the Eiffel Tower, even though we were right next door.

How did the public authorities, in this case the French government, deal with your proposed measures? What did you think of them?

Most of us were disappointed. But we weren't fooled. We knew that everything wasn’t going to be accepted, because unfortunately we know how politics works. And that's why I think citizen participation is essential these days. Politicians are locked into their political apparatuses and they only see their ideas. The day after our reception at the Elysée Palace, I turn on the television and I see MPs saying that the convention isn't legitimate anyway, because citizens aren't elected by the people. What's more, one of them was the MP for my department, and I don't feel like voting for those people.

The problem with politics is that, unfortunately, we've come to realize that lobbies are in charge. It's the power of money that's in charge. So once they're there, it's easier to disappoint us than it is to disappoint the billionaires. Whether it was the logistics or the financing, nothing had been done lightly, so telling us that it wasn't legitimate had a profound effect on us, and that's not what's encouraging us to go back to the ballot box. Having lived through this convention, I'm convinced that citizen participation is becoming indispensable.

Has taking part in the Convention made you experience politics differently, even on subjects other than those on which you took part? Have you noticed any inflection or change?

It's very complicated for me to get involved in politics now, because I've been disappointed all the same. But as a citizen involved in citizen conventions, it's totally different because the people who are there are there for the general interest. We never talked politics. We were there to put forward proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can do that as citizens, we don't need politicians.

Last update: 24 April 2024

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