Home > English > The National Assembly in the French Institutions > File n° 71
The Budget of the National Assembly
The principle of the financial autonomy of the parliamentary assemblies, which is based on the more general principle of the separation of powers, was long recognized by law professors before being enshrined in the law and accepted by the Constitutional Council.
- Article 7, paragraph 1 of ordinance no. 58-1100 of November 17, 1958 concerning the operation of the parliamentary assemblies provides that “each parliamentary assembly possesses financial autonomy”.
- More recently, the Constitutional Council based one of its decisions on “the rule, according to which the constitutional public powers decide themselves on the funds necessary for their operation” and stated that “this rule is, in fact, inherent in the principle of their financial autonomy which guarantees the separation of powers” (decision no. 2001-456 of December 27, 2001 on article 115 of the Finance Act for 2002).
- This autonomy is represented both in the method used to draw up the budget and in the conditions of its implementation and monitoring.
I. – THE DRAWING-UP OF THE BUDGET FOR THE COMING YEAR: FREEDOM OF CHOICE IN DECISIONS CONCERNING THE EXPENDITURE AND RESOURCES OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLIES
1. – The basic draft
Article 7 of ordinance no. 58-1100 of November 17, 1958 sets down, in its two last paragraphs, the procedure to be followed:
“The funds necessary for the operation of the parliamentary assemblies are laid out in proposals made by the Questeurs of the two assemblies and decided upon by a joint committee made up of the Questeurs of the two assemblies. This joint committee is chaired by a president of a division of the Court of Accounts who is appointed by the First President of this Court. The latter also appoints two judges from his court to assist the committee. They have a consultative voice in the deliberations”.
“The proposals which are thus decided upon are included in the budgetary bill and an annex is added consisting of an explanatory report drawn up by the joint committee mentioned in the previous paragraph”;
2. – The preparation of the budget
a) Preparation at the National Assembly
Every year in March, the Questeurs of the National Assembly decide upon the main trends for the budget of the following year. In particular, they set the overall increase rate for expenditure after having noted the value of the index point for the civil service which serves as the benchmark for salary expenditure.
Using these trends and the accounts of the previous year (y-1) as a basis, the various departments of the National Assembly draw up their draft budget.
The Financial and Social Management Department analyses these draft budgets and summarizes them. In the case of a divergence of opinion, it attempts to reach an accommodation with the department in question. If there is still disagreement the matter is put to the Secretary General of the Questure for arbitration.
The draft budget which is thus drawn up and which includes an analysis of the expenditure forecast, the amount of the allocation which will be requested in the finance bill as well as the share of the financing to be acquitted by the Assembly’s own resources, is then settled by the College of Questeurs and submitted to the Bureau of the Assembly, a body made up of the President of the National Assembly, the six vice presidents, the three Questeurs and the twelve secretaries of the National Assembly.
b) The Role of the Joint Committee
In mid-June, the College of Questeurs sends a report on the draft budget to the chairman of the Chamber at the Court of Accounts who is also chairman of the joint committee. Each of the two judges who assist the chairman of the joint committee, delivers a report before the joint committee on the budget of one of the two assemblies. He may, in this capacity, request further inormation
In accordance with the new presentation of the budget since Institutional Act no. 2001-692 of August 1, 2001, the funds allocated to the two parliamentary assemblies and to the parliamentary television channel are included in a specific mission entitled “public powers”, which also covers the Presidency of the Republic, the Constitutional Council and the Court of Justice of the Republic.
The allocation for the National Assembly is not divided into sections, whereas that for the Senate is subdivided into three actions, (the Senate itself, the Luxembourg Gardens and the Luxembourg Museum). The allocation for the parliamentary television channels is divided into two actions: one for the channel called La Chaîne Parlementaire-Assemblée Nationale and one for that called Public-Sénat. The explanatory report which is provided for by the 1958 ordinance to support requests for allocations is published in its entirety in the booklet listing the funds of the mission.
For each of these allocations, the joint committee sets down an overall amount which corresponds to the funds considered necessary for the operation of each of the two assemblies.
This procedure is unusual for two reasons:
- It gathers the financial authorities of the two assemblies in the same body. It allows for the sharing of official information between the National Assembly and the Senate without calling into question the autonomy of either of the assemblies. In fact, in practice, the Questeurs only comment upon questions dealing with the budget of their own assembly.
- It provides the judges of the Court of Accounts with a specific role in the process of the drawing-up of the budgetary allocations of the two assemblies. The presence of such judges, dating from 1958, is a guarantee of competence and impartiality. However it has always been considered that they do not represent the Court of Account as an institution and are therefore not answerable, in the carrying out of their tasks on the joint committee, to the First President of the Court of Accounts. The proposals of the Questeurs are, in fact, adopted only with the modifications which they themselves have accepted.
3. – The inclusion of the budget allocation for the assemblies in the finance act
a) The Procedure for the Passing of Funds
The chairman of the joint committee sends, on its behalf, the explanatory report concerning the proposals for the budget allocations for each of the assemblies to the Budget Minister.
The minister is not in capacity to voice his opinion and includes the corresponding funds in the finance bill. During the discussion of the bill in committee and in plenary sitting, the rules of common law are applied to the discussion of the funds for the Public Powers mission and thus within this mission to the allocations for the parliamentary assemblies: these funds are, in particular, the subject of a special report of the Finance Committee and may be amended.
The allocation granted by the State represents almost the entire resources of the Assembly.
Once the budget has been passed by Parliament, the Questeurs in each concerned assembly decide upon the distribution of the funds included in the finance bill between the various expenditure accounts.
If additional State funds are requested during the year, they are included in a “corrected” finance act following the same procedure as that applied to the initial funds.
b) Information Given to M.P.s and to the General Public
The explanatory report drawn up by the joint committee during its annual meeting is included in its entirety in the budgetary booklet for ‘Public Powers’ which is a public document. It details the amount and nature of the expenditure forecast, the actual use of the corresponding funds during the previous year, as well as the variation from one year to another. It indicates, in addition to the allocation requested from the state budget, the forecast amount of revenue generated by various sources (through the sales of parliamentary documents, the renting out of meeting rooms etc.). It also states, where necessary, the transfers that the Assembly has decided to make from its own assets to cover the difference between the amount of the expenditure forecast and the combined total of the allocation and various revenues. Transfers from the Assembly’s own assets have only ever been used to finance expenditure incurred by the investment section.
II. – THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE BUDGET:
On account of the budgetary and financial autonomy which applies to the two assemblies, the managing of their budget and the monitoring of the regularity of this management is not subject to scrutiny by the Budget Minister. Similarly no legal oversight is carried out by the Court of Accounts.
1. – The rules set down by the National Assembly
The provisions which apply to the budget of the National Assembly are set down in the Budgetary, Accountancy and Financial Rules which are included in a decree of the Bureau of the National Assembly.
In fact, this text repeats the main principles of budgetary management and public accountancy: annuality, no off-setting of expenditure and revenue, no assignment of the revenue which ensures the implementation of overall expenditure, budgetary specification based on the nature of the expenditure, distinction between investment budget and operational budget, restricted nature of funds other than those concerning salaries and the rule of payment upon services rendered.
During the year, credit transfers ensure the necessary financial flexibility; accounts which are in deficit are topped up from accounts with a surplus or, if necessary, by a transfer from the Assembly’s financial assets. The Joint Credit Committee is not informed of modifications made to the initial budget if no appeal for additional state funding has been made.
2. – The different phases in a financial outlay at the National Assembly
These phases are, broadly speaking, the same as for other state administrations but they nonetheless have certain specificities which are linked to the principle of financial autonomy:
- Act of financial engagement (an act by which a requirement is created or recognized on the part of the National Assembly which will result in a financial outlay for it). This act is prepared by the director of the department incurring the expenditure, under the authority of the Secretary General of the Questure. It falls within the remit of the Questeurs or the lead Questeur;
- Whatever the nature of the expenditure concerned, its settlement and payment can only occur once an order for payment has been drawn up by the department concerned in the name of one or several creditors. Documents proving the existence of the service provided must be furnished with the order of payment;
- Act of settlement (the verification of the liability contracted by the act of financial engagement and the establishing of its amount). This is also drawn up by the department concerned and is carried out by the Secretary General of the Questure;
- Order of payment (the administrative act which gives the order to pay an outlay in accordance with the results of the act of settlement). This falls within the remit of the lead Questeur;
- The payment of the outlay is made by the treasurer, who is a civil servant of the National Assembly responsible before the Questeurs for the funds which are entrusted to him.
3. – Accounting documents
- Every year, the College of Questeurs draws up the results and the aggregated account of the National Assembly which includes the accounts of the National Assembly per se, those of the pension and retirement systems as well as those of the two social security schemes for M.P.s and staff.
- This is accompanied by an information annex which in particular includes an assessment of the social spending of the National Assembly. An outside actuarial office is given the task of carrying out this assessment.
- All these documents are drawn up using the principles of the general accountancy plan except where adaptations are necessary on account of the particularities of the National Assembly. Such exceptions are decided upon by a decree of the Questeurs.
III. – MONITORING OF BUDGETARY IMPLEMENTATION:
The means of monitoring the implementation of the budget are freely set by each of the parliamentary assemblies.
In each of the two assemblies, the a posteriori monitoring of the implementation of the budget is carried out by an internal committee.
In addition to this, the true and fair nature of the accounts is also checked by a third body in the framework of the annual certification procedure for the general accounts of the state.
1.– Monitoring by the special committee in charge of auditing and balancing the accounts of the National Assembly
According to article 16 of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, the Special Committee in Charge of Auditing and Balancing the Accounts of the National Assembly, must be made up fifteen M.P.s appointed proportionally according to the representation of each political group. The members of the Bureau of the National Assembly and thus, the Questeurs, may not be members. The reform of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly introduced on May 27, 2009 provides that the position of chairman of this committee may only be held by a member of the opposition. However, this provision only comes into force at the beginning of the following term of Parliament.
Every year, the committee examines the accounts of the previous full financial year.
To do this, the Financial and Social Management Department draws up a draft report. This report is adopted by the Questeurs and then passed on by them to the members of the special committee. The latter may directly consult the financial account (1), the accounting documents, the orders and the accompanying documents.
In practice, once they have consulted the report, the members of the special committee send a questionnaire to the Questeurs, through the chairman of their committee. The answers drawn up by the various departments involved in the expenditure are returned by the Questeurs to each of the members of the special committee when the annual hearing takes place.
Once the special committee has questioned the Questeurs, it settles the accounts and the annexed accounting for the previous year of the National Assembly by a decree signed by its chairman and the members of its bureau. By the same decree, it entrusts the Questeurs with the task of appropriating the results for the financial year, gives them final discharge of their financial management or renders account to the Assembly. It also gives final discharge to the treasurer of the Assembly.
2. – The certification of the accounts
The Institutional Act Concerning Finance Acts of August 1, 2001, introduced a certification procedure for the general accounts of the State. The Court of Accounts was tasked with this and it led to the drawing-up by the latter of a report which is annexed to the draft settlement bill for the previous year’s budget.
The accounts of the National Assembly and of the Senate are part of the general budget of the State and are thus included in the range of the certification procedure. However, the principle of the autonomy of the parliamentary assemblies blocks the Court of Accounts from carrying out such a certification.
So as to allow the Court of Accounts to provide the overall certification of the general accounts of the State, the Assemblies decided to hand over the contractual audit of their own accounts for certification, to an outside body. This task is currently carried out by the High Council of the Order of Chartered Accountants which is assisted in its mission in each assembly by two audit offices chosen by it. The High Council and the two audit offices carry out their mission in total independence.
The certification concerns the aggregated accounts described above. The certification report is written by the Chairman of the High Council of the Order of Chartered Accountants for the Chairman of the special committee who immediately transmits it to the Court of Accounts.
3. – the public report on the accounts
Article 16 of the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly makes provision for the special committee to draw up a public report at the end of each financial year.
Every year, once it has questioned the Questeurs, the spcial committee examines the draft report drawn up by its chairman. The report, most of which deals with the presentation of the results of the financial year, with the balance and with the final accounts, may include a thematic annex which enables the examination of the expenditure from another perspective than the purely accountancy one (e.g. computer expenses, staff expenses, communication expenses etc.).
The report of the High Council of the Order of Chartered Accountants on the annual audit of the accounts of the National Assembly is published without modifications in annex to the report of the Chairman of the special committee.
(1) The financial account is drawn up by the treasurer and the director of the Financial Affairs Department and is signed by the Secretary General of the Questure as well as by the Questeur in charge. It includes an implementation report on the budget, the final accounts, the balance sheet and its annexes as well as the general balance of the accounts.