Economics serving society

J-F. Laslier - The “deliberative” Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (February 2019)

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19 Feb. 2019 - Jean-François Laslier Jean-François Laslier (CNRS, PSE) and eight co-authors (1) published a Terra Nova paper entitled:

« Le Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne Délibératif »

(The Deliberative Citizens’ Initiative Referendum)

The Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (Référendum d’initiative citoyenne RIC) responds not only to the legitimate desire of citizens to be consulted more often but also gives them choice in both their answers and the questions. In this sense, it fulfils the dream of a direct democracy recognised in law since the Revolution, but which has always been skilfully constrained, even prevented.

There are numerous risks associated with this procedure that must be taken seriously, including a weakening of democratically elected authority, a multiplication of consultations with potentially uncontrollable and contradictory effects, lack of preparation before the vote, and significant exposure to all sorts of demagogic manoeuvres.
This study aims to establish the conditions necessary for benefitting from the RIC while avoiding as much as possible the risks that it carries. To do that, it explores solutions that have been adopted in countries where this kind of referendum occurs and proposes a number of ways in which a “deliberative RIC” could be developed in the French context.

The nine co-authors’ principle argument is that direct and participatory democracy should be combined as closely as possible. Thus they propose that the referendum process triggered by the collection of a certain number of signatures be accompanied by an assembly of citizens drawn by lot who, before the vote, would deliberate publicly on the impact and consequences of the poll. This is what they call the “deliberative RIC”.

The assembly would be charged with producing a short document presenting the issues at stake in the referendum question, and what it considers the most pertinent arguments for the Yes and No cases.

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(1) Authors of the study: Loïc Blondiaux, professor of political science; Marie-Anne Cohendet, professor of constitutional law; Marine Fleury, teacher-researcher at the University of La Rochelle; Bastien François, professor of constitutional law; Jérôme Lang, research director in computer science at CNRS; Jean-François Laslier, Director of research at CNRS, and professor at the École d’économie de Paris ; Thierry Pech, Director General of Terra Nova ; Quentin Sauzay, co-founder of ECHO, member of Démocratie Ouverte ; Frédéric Sawicki, professor of political science