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The political groups are the formal representation of political parties and movements in the National Assembly. They are nonetheless distinct from these and in fact the Rules of Procedure make provision for the setting-up and the organizing of political groups in a way which is completely autonomous from the legal system applied to political parties.
I. – RULES FOR THE SETTING-UP OF POLITICAL GROUPS
The Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly state that “M.P.s may form groups according to their political affinities”.
To be created, a group must meet two conditions:
- It must bring together a minimum number of M.P.s. This number has been changed from twenty to fifteen in the National Assembly with the reform of the Rules of Procedure on May 27, 2009;
- It must transmit to the President's office a political statement signed by its members and put forward by the chairman they have chosen.
An M.P. may only be a member of one political group.
It is also possible, with the authorization of the Bureau of a group, to be a part of that group, not as a fully-fledged member but as an associated member. The associated members are not included in the minimum number necessary for the setting-up of a group but they are included in the group numbers concerning all other aspects of parliamentary life.
It is not mandatory to be a member of a group or to be associated to a group. M.P.s who are in such a position are named on the list of Members of Parliament as ‘belonging to no group’ and are usually referred to as ‘non-enrolled’.
Changes may occur after the initial setting-up of a group. In the case of new membership or enrolment, the double signature of the chairman and the M.P. in question are required whilst in the case of resignation or expulsion only the signature of one or the other is necessary.
The Rules of Procedure also state that no group which presents itself as a group representing private, local or professional interests or which forces its members to accept a binding vote, can be created.
II. – THE INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF POLITICAL GROUPS
The groups have the right to decide upon their own internal organization and their own procedures (they may draw up their own statutes and standing orders). The groups are serviced by an administrative secretariat which they recruit but whose conditions of access to, and working arrangements in, the National Assembly are decided upon by the Bureau. The National Assembly provides the groups with a financial contribution to ensure their proper running. This contribution varies according to the number of members in the group.
Generally speaking political groups meet at least once a week so as to decide their position on the bills on the agenda, draw up the list of their speakers, nominate their candidates to certain bodies and debate current affairs.
The importance of political groups in the life of the National Assembly is symbolized by their seating in the plenary chamber from the ‘left’ to the ‘right’ of the President’s rostrum.
At the beginning of a term of Parliament, the President brings together their representatives in order to ‘divide the Chamber up politically’. This in fact means the creation of sectors which will be given over to each group for the seating of their members in the Chamber. Each group then provides each of its members with a seat within the sector. This seat will then be fitted with the member’s individual voting panel.
III. – THE ROLE OF POLITICAL GROUPS IN THE WORKING OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The role of political groups in the working of the National Assembly and in the organization of its work can be seen in many areas.
1. – The representation of political groups in the Bureau and in standing committees
The groups play a role in the setting-up of the internal bodies of the National Assembly, by providing, in accordance with the legal rules and established customs, the appointments to many positions.
The Bureau of the National Assembly is thus elected with “every endeavour being made to ensure that it reflects the political make-up of the Assembly” (article 10, paragraph 2 of the Rules of Procedure) i.e. on the basis of an agreement between the groups as to the distribution of the various positions concerned (vice presidents, Questeurs, secretaries). If no agreement between the groups is reached, a ballot is held.
In the standing committees the groups have a number of seats proportional to their membership, with each group free to distribute its members between the various standing committees within its quota. In the make-up of the bureaux of the standing committees every endeavour is made to ensure that they reflect the political make-up of the Assembly and that all the opinions of the Assembly are represented.
The participation of groups is also required in the setting-up of any body based on proportional representation (the European Affairs Committee, ad-hoc committees, commissions of inquiry, the parliamentary office) or in the distribution of positions based on rules respecting the pluralism of political groups (joint committees, representation in extra-parliamentary bodies, the attribution of the chairmanship of study groups and of friendship groups).
Furthermore, the chairmen of groups are ex-officio members of the Commission for the Assessment and Monitoring of Public Policies and of its bureau. Outside of its ex-officio members, this commission, whose composition shall ensure that every endeavour is carried out so that it reflects the political make-up of the Assembly, has fifteen seats distributed proportionally between the groups taking into account the ex-officio members.
2. – Participation in the debates in plenary sitting
The exercise of those rights concerning the work in plenary sitting, especially those concerning the rights of speaking, are carried out through the political groups.
This is the case when the Conference of Presidents decides on the organization of a general debate on bills, on the consideration of a bill in a set time limit or the organization of debates on Government statements or on motions of censure. In these cases an allotted speaking time is given to each group, which then, in practice, has the responsibility of distributing it amongst the speakers it appoints.
In the same way, the organization of question time is based on the allotment of a number of questions to each group and whose management is in the hands of the group itself.
Similarly, the explanations of votes on all Government or Member’s bills, with the exception of personal explanations of votes authorized during the consideration of bills when the set time limit is applied, are made through a single speech given by a representative appointed by each group.
IV. – THE PREROGATIVES OF THE PRESIDENTS OF POLITICAL GROUPS
1. – The Conference of presidents
The presidents of groups are members by right of the Conference of Presidents and take part in the discussion on the drawing-up of the agenda and on the organizational measures which are associated with it. They may submit proposals to the Conference of Presidents concerning the agenda. When a vote occurs within the Conference of Presidents, quite a rare event in fact, each chairman of a political group is granted a number of votes equal to the number of members of his group (minus those who already participate in the Conference in another capacity: vice-presidents, chairmen of committees). Since the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, as the agenda is shared between the Government and the Assembly, the political groups (and in particular the political groups belonging to the governing majority) play a decisive role in the drawing-up of the Assembly’s agenda.
2. – The prerogatives of the presidents of political groups in the legislative procedure
In addition, the presidents of political groups have a substantial number of prerogatives concerning the working of the legislative procedure and the holding of plenary sittings. Thus the Rules of Procedure (or in certain cases custom) recognize their right, in particular, to:
- Ask for the setting-up of an ad-hoc committee (or to oppose it)
- Obtain, by right, the adjournment of a sitting in order to organize a meeting of their group;
- Hold a public ballot when they ask for it;
- Ask, personally during the sitting, for the verification of the quorum when a vote is held, on the condition that the majority of the members of their group are actually present in the Chamber;
- Require that the application of a set time limit on a bill be not less than thirty hours;
- Obtain, once per session, an extension of the time for consideration of a bill which leads to the application of a set time limit of fifty hours maximum along with an additional period of ten minutes per group every time an amendment is tabled outside the usual time limits by the Government or the committee;
- Oppose the application of a set time limit on a bill when its consideration on first reading occurs less than six weeks after its tabling or less than four weeks after its transmission;
- Propose the implementation of the simplified procedures for examination (or oppose such implementation);
- Have a European draft resolution become the subject of a report by the European Affairs Committee within a one-month time limit.
- In addition, within the framework of the application of the set time limit, each group chairman is granted a specific speaking time which is not subtracted from his group’s time. This speaking time represents not more than one hour if the time set for the consideration of the bill is less than forty hours and two hours if the overall time set is longer.
V. – SPECIFIC RIGHTS GRANTED TO OPPOSITION AND MINORITY GROUPS
- Article 51-1 of the Constitution states that “The Rules of Procedure of each House… recognize that opposition groups in the House concerned, as well as minority groups, have specific rights”. For a group to obtain the status of opposition group its chairman must make a declaration to the Presidency of the National Assembly. This declaration may be made or withdrawn at any moment. However the status of a minority group is certified: the minority groups are defined as those who have not made a declaration of membership of the opposition to the Presidency, with the exception of that group which has the largest number of members.
- These specific rights are attributed on the basis of the group’s situation at the beginning of the term of Parliament for one year and then every year after that at the beginning of the ordinary session.
- The opposition and minority groups, in particular, may take advantage of one day per month given over to an agenda set entirely by them. These sittings are divided between the opposition and the minority groups according to their numerical size with each group having at least three sittings per ordinary session.
- Each opposition or minority group may also, once per ordinary session, include on the agenda of the following monitoring week, as of right, a draft resolution aimed at setting up a committee of inquiry. To be defeated, this draft resolution must be opposed by a three fifths majority of the National Assembly. This possibility is however not available during the session immediately preceding general elections.
- The opposition groups have other rights which are recognized such as the chairmanship of the Finance Committee or the allocation of half of the speaking time during debates subsequent to a Government declaration.
VI. – GROUPS AND THE ORGANIZATION OF ELECTORAL CAMPAIGNS ON PUBLIC TELEVISION
- Article L.167-1 of the electoral code states that, for the organization of the general election campaigns, the distribution of airtime granted by the public radio and television services is decided upon after an agreement between the chairmen of parliamentary political groups at the National Assembly or if such a direct agreement is not forthcoming by the enlarged Bureau, including the chairmen of groups.
- As regards European elections, the law of July 7, 1977 concerning the election of representatives to the European Parliament states, in article 19, that a period of airtime on the public audiovisual communication services is made available to parties and groupings represented by the political groups at the National Assembly or the Senate.