France: the need for a truly democratic Republic

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President François Hollande and his ministers seem determined to press ahead with their intelligence and surveillance bill which will give wide-ranging powers to the security services and police. It is the first time in more than half a century in France that a left-wing administration has been party to such a retreat from democracy. Instead of extending existing freedoms or creating new ones, the current government is following in the tradition of right-wing administrations, extolling the virtues of secrecy, refusing debate, acting in an authoritarian manner and handing greater powers to the hidden world of intelligence and surveillance, without offering any serious checks and counterbalances in return. Ahead of a day of protest on Monday May 4th against the bill, Mediapart's editor-in-chief Edwy Plenel argues that all the time that the nation's highly-personalised presidential system of government remains in place, France will continue to suffer from politics that lack true democracy.

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Democracy is just an empty word if it is simply reduced to choosing our elected representatives every five years. This is even more true in France where those representatives are humiliated by a presidential system in which they are subject to the goodwill of a single individual, to automatic Parliamentary majorities and enforced obedience. To confront the complexity of the world and its challenges a living democracy needs a permanent debate that favours Parliamentary majorities based on ideas, and it demands strong counterbalances that are respected. Such a democracy also requires a relationship with society that is not reduced to public relations propaganda, and which instead backs the assessment of its citizens, their knowledge and grievances that come from experience.