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Juin 2012

 File n°26 

The Setting of the Agenda and the Conference of Presidents

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    The original wording of the 1958 Constitution gave the Government control of the priority agenda of the assemblies.

    The constitutional reform of July 23, 2008, henceforth allows for the sharing of the agenda between the Government and Parliament.

    In practice, the agenda is set by the Conference of Presidents.

See also files 22, 23, 27, 45, 46 and 49

 

    I. – THE AGENDA IS SHARED BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT AND PARLIAMENT

    In its original wording, article 48 of the Constitution provided that the agenda of the assemblies included, as a priority and in the order that the Government set, the discussion of bills tabled by the Government and Members’ bills which it, the Government, had accepted. With the exception of sittings given over, at least once a week, to Government question time and, once a month, to a priority agenda set by each assembly, article 48 provided for a priority Government agenda which could take up all the time available in plenary sitting.

    The new wording of article 48 consequent to the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008, states that the agenda shall be set by each assembly and introduces a sharing of the agenda between the Government and Parliament.

    The agenda is determined by the Conference of Presidents (Cf. III infra) in sequences of four weeks and must follow the priorities laid down in article 48 of the Constitution.

    So as to enable the Executive to implement -within a reasonable time limit- the legislative reforms which it considers essential , a part of the agenda, two weeks of sitting out of four, are given over to the exclusive initiative of the Government. According to the Constitution, the Government may decide the bills (including Members’ bills) which it wishes to see included on the agenda for these two weeks and it may set the order in which they will be considered. Neither the Conference of Presidents nor the Assembly may have a say on this chosen order.

    As well as having the right to set this part of the agenda, the Government is also free to change it. A letter addressed to the President of the National Assembly or even, although this is much rarer, a simple statement made in plenary sitting by a member of the Government, suffice to change the order of the bills included on the agenda, to withdraw a bill or even, in exceptional circumstances, to table a bill which has not previously been planned.

    The Assembly itself sets the agenda for the two remaining weeks. Thus one week concerns the monitoring of Government action and the assessment of public policies whilst the second week is given over to the consideration of bills which it wishes to see debated (referred to as the “Assembly Week”). The Conference of Presidents draws up the list of Members’ bills which the President of the National Assembly will submit to the Assembly. The latter will then vote on the whole thing and no amendment is allowed.

    The order of business is published in the Journal Officiel and on the website of the National Assembly.

    II. – EXCEPTIONS TO THE PRINCIPLE

    1. – Government priority is maintained for certain bills

    The third paragraph of article 48 does provide for the priority inclusion on the agenda of certain bills upon the request of the Government and outside of the weeks which are in any case given over to Government business.

    Finance bills and social security financing bills can be set as a priority to the agenda including the weeks normally devoted to monitoring or during "Assembly week". This priority reflects the fact that these texts are essential to the implementation of Government policy, and that their consideration is governed by strict time limits set by the Constitution (see sections 47 and 47-1 of the Constitution).

    Government and Members’ bills which have been passed by the other assembly and which were transmitted at least six weeks previously, Government bills concerning a state of crisis, requests for authorization, by virtue of article 35 of the Constitution, concerning an intervention of the armed forces abroad for a period of more than four months and for a declaration of war may also be set as a priority to the agenda of "Assembly weeks" (but may not during the monitoring weeks).

    Insofar as the first paragraph of article 48 of the Rules of Procedure henceforth bestows a general principle of competence on the Conference of Presidents, the Government informs the Conference of Presidents, at the latest, the day before it meets, before including bills on the agenda.

    2. – Respect of the time limits laid down by the Constitution

    The constitutional revision has significantly modified article 42 of the Constitution by stating that the examination of a draft bill in plenary sitting shall concern the text drawn up by the committees. So as to allow a reasonable time span to the committees in order to examine the bills submitted to them, a minimal time limit has been set by the Constitution between the tabling and the discussion in plenary sitting.

    Thus the discussion on first reading of a Government or Member’s draft bill cannot take place before the first assembly where it was tabled until the end of a six-week period after its tabling. In the case of a bill which has been transmitted by the other assembly, this period is reduced to four weeks as of the date of transmission. This does not apply to finance bills and social security financing bills nor to bills concerning a state of crisis, nor to bills  which are subject to the accelerated procedure provided for by article 45 of the Constitution.

    In accordance with paragraph 2 of article 46 of the Constitution, the same time limits apply to institutional acts unless the accelerated procedure has been implemented. In this case, a period of fifteen days must elapse between the introduction of a bill of an institutional nature and its debate in the assembly where it was tabled.

    The discussion of censure motions (articles 49, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Constitution) must take place, at the latest, the third day of sitting following the end of the constitutional limit of forty-eight hours after the tabling of the motion. This date is set by the Conference of Presidents. Furthermore, article 51 of the Constitution states that “the closing of the ordinary session or the extraordinary sessions shall be automatically postponed, in order to permit the application of article 49 if the case arises”. For the same reasons, additional sittings are of right.

    3. – Questions to the Government

    Article 48, paragraph 6, of the Constitution, states that “during at least one sitting per week, including during the extraordinary sittings provided for in article 29, priority shall be given to questions from Members of Parliament and to answers from the Government”.

    In practice question time is divided between questions to the Government, oral questions without debate

     The first of these take place twice a week at the National Assembly: on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, from 3pm to 4 pm, the sitting is devoted to questions on current affairs to the Government. During extraordinary sessions, custom since 2009 has it that question time takes place once a week only.

    Oral questions without debate take place on Tuesday and Thursday mornings during the week reserved for the monitoring of Government action and the assessment of public policies.

    4. – The reserved agenda for opposition and minority groups

    The recognition of the rights of opposition and minority groups which is provided by article 51-1 of the Constitution, is the direct result of the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008. Article 48, paragraph 5, of the Constitution, states that: “One day of sitting per month shall be given over to an agenda determined by each House upon the initiative of the opposition groups in the relevant House, as well as upon that of the minority groups”.

    The role provided to the opposition in the setting of the agenda has quite substantially been increased. In fact the priority agenda which is provided to the opposition corresponds to “one day of sitting per month”.

    Thus whilst groups belonging to the opposition had, according to the old Rules of Procedure, seven sittings with parliamentary initiative per session, they shall now benefit from twenty-seven such sittings per session (i.e. three sittings for each of their days).

    The Conference of Presidents determines the agenda of this day on the basis of bills proposed for inclusion by the opposition or minority groups.

    III. – THE CONFERENCE OF PRESIDENTS

    The Conference of Presidents is the competent body as regards the preparation of the organization of the work of the National Assembly in plenary sitting. It is convened by the President of the National Assembly once a week, usually on a Tuesday, or more often if necessary.

    1. – Composition

    The Conference of Presidents is made up, apart from the President, of six vice-presidents, the eight chairmen of the standing committees, the General Rapporteur of the Finance Committee, General Economy and Budgetary Monitoring Committee, the Chairman of the European Affairs Committee and the chairmen of the political groups. The chairmen of ad-hoc committees may be invited to attend upon their request.

    The Government is represented by one of its members, usually the Minister in Charge of Relations with the Parliament. This person transmits to the Conference of Presidents the plans of the Government for the sittings weeks during which it has priority.

    2. – Role

    The new wording of article 48 of the Constitution lays down the principle of the setting of the agenda by the assembly. It is the task of the Conference of Presidents to determine the order of business whilst taking into account the limits laid down by the Constitution.

    First of all, the Government informs the Conference of Presidents of its overall plans concerning the schedule of the session. Thus the Minister in Charge of Relations with Parliament transmits to the Conference of Presidents, before the opening of the session or after the appointment of the Government, the weeks which the Government plans to reserve during the session for the consideration of bills and debates which it requests to be included on the agenda.

    The Conference of presidents is also in charge of setting for the session the schedule of montly sittings devoted to a priority agenda  at the initiative of the opposition or minority groups  (article 48, paragraph 5, of the Constitution). At the beginning of the ordinary session, the sittings devoted to the opposition and minority groups are allocated to them in proportion to their size, - each group being granted at least three sittings per ordinary session.

    Based upon these priorities, the Conference of Presidents draws up the provisional general schedule of the ordinary session, which is posted and published. Changes may be made in the course of the year, for exemple if the Government wants to reverse the order of certain sitting weeks.

    The agenda is then drawn up by the Conference of Presidents for each four-week sequence. On account of the constitutional priority which is given to Government in the setting of the agenda (paragraphs 2 and 3 of article 48 of the Constitution), the Conference of Presidents has not to decide on the order of business which is transmitted to it concerning the two weeks reserved for the Government nor on the bills which are the Government priority. Nonetheless, even for this part of the agenda, the meeting of the Conference of Presidents can be the forum for an exchange of views which might lead the Government, in addition to the prior consultations which it has already had, to change certain of the plans it had previously set out.

    In regards to the two other weeks, the Conference of Presidents has broad leeway in setting the agenda.

    Group chairmen and committee chairmen may make proposals for inclusion on the agenda of the “Assembly’s Week”: their proposals must be addressed to the President of the National Assembly, at the latest four days before the Conference meets. As regards the weeks of monitoring, each opposition or minority group has the right to include one assessment of monitoring subject.

    The Conference of Presidents also organizes the general discussion of the texts or the debates included on the agenda, notably by sharing out the length of speaking time which will be provided to speakers whatever the context (governmental or parliamentary initiative) of the bills or debates in question.

    In addition, in accordance with article 45 of the Constitution, the Conference of Presidents of the two assemblies may decide jointly to oppose the implementation of the accelerated procedure.

    The Rules of Procedure also consider the following within the remit of the Conference of Presidents:

    - Organizing the sittings of oral questions, be they oral questions without debate or the two weekly sittings of questions to the Government;

    - Deciding on the conformity of the impact study attached to a draft bill to the requirements set by the organic law on the application of Article 39 of the Constitution;

    - Setting the maximum length of time for the overall consideration of a bill (set time limit);

    - Drawing up the conditions and the length of the discussion on the annual finance bill. This deals both with the first part of this discussion and with the second part when the budgetary missions are examined;

    - Deciding that there will be a ‘solemn vote’ by public ballot, on the entire text of important bills and setting the dates of such votes in advance;

    - Setting the day for the examination of censure motions and organizing their discussion.