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February 2011

 File n°28 

The General Secretariat of the Government

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    The General Secretariat of the Government was created in 1935 and is a light administrative body (it numbers about one hundred civil servants). It is under the authority of the Prime Minister and is headed by the Secretary General of the Government.

    Its task is to ensure the correct functioning and the legality of Government action. As such it is a key contact for the departments of the National Assembly.

See also files 2 and 3

 

    I. – THE GENERAL SECRETARIAT OF THE GOVERNMENT: THE ADMINISTRATIVE BODY IN CHARGE OF ENSURING THE CORRECT FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT AND THE LEGALITY OF GOVERNMENTAL ACTION

    The missions of the General Secretariat of the Government are fourfold:

    - The organization of governmental work and the respect of procedures,

    - Providing legal advice to the Government,

    - The continuity of governmental action in the case of the formation of a new Government,

    - Monitoring the services of the Prime Minister.

    1.– The organization of governmental work

    The General Secretariat of the Government is involved at all stages in the development of Government decisions.

    First of all, it convenes the inter-ministerial meetings and draws up the minutes which it files and distributes. In this way, the General Secretariat of the Government fulfils the role of “the clerk of the republic”. 

    It is also responsible for the transmission of the most important texts (laws, ordinances etc.) to the consultative formations of the Conseil d’Etat, for putting forward the Government’s point of view and for ensuring the coherence of the speeches of the various ministers as well as for following the development of the debates. A representative of the General Secretariat of the Government attends the deliberations of the Conseil d’État so as to ensure the coherence of the speeches of the representatives of the ministries. The General Secretariat of the Government pays particular attention to the legal positions taken by the Conseil d’État so as to avoid subsequent censure of the text, either through an appeal against a decree by the litigation formations of the Conseil d’État itself or through an appeal against a law by the Constitutional Council.

    The General Secretariat of the Government is also responsible for the secretariat of the Council of Ministers and prepares its agenda and the files for the questions which are included on the agenda. It also records the decisions taken.

    2. – Legal advice to the Government

    The General Secretariat of the Government has a role as legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s and the other ministers’ staff.

    The members of the General Secretariat of the Government and in particular the ‘chargés de mission’ examine the legality and the formality of the texts which they deal with.

    The General Secretariat of the Government may be consulted by ministers or their staff on certain legal questions when they wish to have the opinion of a body with a ‘horizontal expertise’.

    In collaboration with the ministries concerned, the General Secretariat of the Government defends before the Conseil d’État the decrees which have been the subject of an appeal. It also ensures a ‘constitutional surveillance’, at all stages of the procedure, on the problems of constitutionality which are raised by a text and writes up the observations of the Government in the case of a referral to the Constitutional Council.

    In addition, the General Secretariat of the Government ensures the distribution of legal documentation to the ministries and draws up, in particular, the circulars of the Prime Minister concerning the interpretation of texts.

    3. – The specific remit of the General Secretariat of the Government upon the formation of a new Government

    The General Secretariat of the Government is a permanent administrative body and thus its members are not replaced when the Prime Minister leaves his position.

    It is in fact the duty of the General Secretariat of the Government to guide the new Government upon its arrival in office. The General Secretariat of the Government is the guarantor of the continuity of governmental action despite political changes.

    It prepares the decrees of attribution and of delegation which define the remit of each member of Government. It distributes the logistical means (buildings, offices etc.) to the new ministerial teams and it provides them with all the necessary information (on the progress of such and such reform, on the procedures of Government work).

    4. – Monitoring the services of the Prime Minister

    The General Secretary of the Government also directs all of the services under the authority of the Prime Minister and attempts to play a key role in the area of the modernization of the administration.

    II. – THE GENERAL SECRETARIAT OF THE GOVERNMENT: A KEY CONTACT FOR THE DEPARTMENTS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

    The General Secretariat of the Government plays a major role in parliamentary life by ensuring the publication and the transmission to the assemblies of information concerning the organization of sessions and sittings (decrees convening extraordinary sessions, requests for the authorization to extend military operations abroad beyond four months etc.). It has a central position in the legislative process and is a key contact for the Parliament in the carrying-out of numerous tasks which represent quite a substantial share of parliamentary work.

    1. – The General Secretariat of the Government plays a discreet but indispensable role in the legislative procedure

    The General Secretariat of the Government, in collaboration with the Minister in Charge of Relations with the Parliament and the minister responsible for defending a bill before Parliament, ensures the preparation of the decree presenting the bill and follows the legislative procedure. It is the job of the General Secretariat of the Government to “physically” bring the bill to the “table” of the parliamentary assemblies. In real terms, this “tabling” has been carried out since April 2008, by electronic communication: the bill is, in fact, sent by electronic mail to the Table Office of the relevant assembly.

    In addition, according to article 115 of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, when a Government or Member’s bill which has been passed by the Senate, is then passed by the National Assembly without modification, the President of the National Assembly “shall transmit the final instrument to the President of the Republic for promulgation through the Secretariat-General of the Government”. It is thus the duty of the General Secretariat of the Government to gather the signatures required by the Constitution and to ensure the publication of the text in the Journal Officiel. In the case of referral to the Constitutional Council, the General Secretariat of the Government plays an important role as it is responsible for presenting Government observations concerning the appeal against the bill which has been passed.

    Similarly after the passing of a law, the General Secretariat of the Government ensures that the application decrees, i.e. those necessary for the settling of all the details which the law could not deal with, are enforced in a reasonable time limit and draws up a report on them to the Prime Minister.

    2. – The general secretariat of the government: a key contact for parliament

    Its position as a “secretariat” for governmental work and its role regarding the respect for procedures, makes the General Secretariat of the Government a real crossroads for the relations between Government and the National Assembly in the carrying-out of numerous tasks and operations which make up parliamentary work. The General Secretariat of the Government is particularly involved in the procedure regarding written questions. In this area, it centralizes the replies of the different ministries, monitors their content and transmits them to the assemblies for publication in the Journal Officiel. This centralization role also applies for the transmission to Parliament of the reports which are provided for by various bills. For example, an administration cannot, by itself, send a report provided for by law, to Parliament. It must pass through the General Secretariat of the Government which checks on the legality of the report and transmits it to the Table Office of the relevant assembly which can then table it.

    The General Secretariat of the Government also supervises the correct composition of extra-parliamentary bodies i.e. those on which M.P.s and Senators sit by virtue of specific laws. The representatives of Parliament are generally appointed to such bodies by the President or by the standing committees.

    The appointment of parliamentarians to missions, in accordance with article L.O. 144 of the Electoral Code, also passes through the General Secretariat of the Government which ensures that the appointment decree for such missions are published and informs the assembly in which the said appointee sits.

    Finally, the same procedure applies for consultation requests on certain appointments envisaged by the Executive. In fact, article 13 of the Constitution, in its wording subsequent to article 5 of the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008, states that the institutional act shall determine the list of posts and positions “concerning which, on account of their importance in the guaranteeing of the rights and freedoms or the economic and social life of the Nation, the power of appointment vested in the President of the Republic shall be exercised after public consultation with the relevant standing committee in each House”. This procedure implies a referral by the Prime Minister which, in practice, passes through the General Secretariat of the Government.