"A slap in the face": becoming a climate activist after a deliberation

Grégoire Fraty is one of the 150 selected by lot for the Citizens’ Climate Convention. 18 months of work that took him from ordinary citizen to climate activist. A 2 year-long commitment that he now intends to put to good use in his everyday life, and why not in politics. He tells us more about his book and the last session of the Convention.

Missions Publiques: In your book, you say “a citizens’ convention should not be a boring seminar, on the contrary, it should be alive, on the move, to respond to the injunctions of the democratic life of citizens”. Yet the members of the Convention did not get much out of the mandate. How do you explain this?

Grégoire Fraty: We nevertheless managed to extricate ourselves a little from the mandate by gaining time to work on education, which was not planned. The most complicated thing was to obtain working time on the Constitution when the measures arising from it do not have a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. We would also have liked to have dealt with biodiversity, without success on this point. The real complexity lay in the presence of a very strong governance committee and, faced with this, the absence of an organised citizen’s collective that would allow us to speak with a common voice. The citizens present within the governance committee were drawn by lot, so their legitimacy was very fragile vis-à-vis the others. It was a real struggle to get out of the mandate! This is why we asked for internal time for the 150, without a facilitator or governance committee. Then, the idea of creating the association of 150 emerged to give a collective voice to the citizens. Here again, it was a step out of the way since the question of follow-up was not included in the mandate. In reality, we had 9 months of Convention, and 9 months of follow-up. So half of them were carried out outside the mandate. It is our tool, our identity, our own voice.

 

Missions Publiques: “We were doing politics in spite of ourselves” you say. Isn’t the association of the 150 a political association, in the sense that it intends to influence society through its actions, follow measures, support local initiatives, etc.? Isn’t it time to turn the page on “conventional”?

 Grégoire Fraty: It is rather non-partisan. When I co-founded the association, we had a line included which specifies that this association can never support a party or a candidate. The idea was to avoid turning it into yet another militant force but a citizen base. So yes, we do politics but in the noble sense of the term and we meet all the currents, from Valérie Pécresse to François Rufin, from the CGT to the Medef… For me, the time of the collective is over. I am in favour of us going back to our life as citizens, to our daily life, to talk to our neighbours. Some of us are going to get involved in the associations, others are going to get involved in politics in the coming weeks… very much to the left, with the Greens, but also to the right.

Through the votes of the last session, I felt a certain cleavage between those citizens who have taken a political stance, those who have taken a factual stance, and others who are more committed. This last session was not a joyful session, it was a bitter, bitter and confrontational one. Proof that the exercise has served its purpose. 18 months is a very long time and it necessarily “changes” the or the ordinary citizen drawn at random. I am against the professionalisation of the citizen, so we must be careful about the length of these steps.

France’s investment in this citizens’ convention was to train 150 people to become enlightened citizens.

Missions Publiques: Citizen drawn by lot, voluntary association volunteer, climate activist… is the return to “normality” really what you envisage?

Grégoire Fraty : We were in politics for 18 months, we were drowned in the republican institutions. We learned a lot about the climate aspect, but also a lot about the democratic aspect, if not as much. That’s why I talk about a slap in the face! We have trained ourselves: on the role of institutions, on the media aspect, on how to talk to experts, to elected officials, during public meetings. France’s investment in this citizens’ convention was to train 150 people to become enlightened citizens. I feel that I must make the most of this experience. My commitment in any case is to continue in a personal capacity. It wasn’t in my nature at all. Before the Convention, my hobbies were reading, playing video games and playing the piano. Not once at the weekend did I give I was giving my time to an association. My investment was my work. Today, I’m ready to spend my weekends working for the climate. I don’t want to stop.

 

Missions Publiques: How can we reach out more widely? How to go from 150 to 67 million French people? You say you “regret” that France has a plebiscite culture but not a referendum culture. Is it, in your opinion, a tool to allow this change of scale?

Grégoire Fraty: Part of our measures are heading in this direction. For example, we have recommended two hours of environment and sustainable development every week in middle and high schools. But one of the measures that allows us to address French men and women more widely is the referendum on article 1 of the Constitution. There could be a great societal shift at that time with a great climate debate at the national level, with the “pros”, the “cons”, TV spots so that everyone can have this debate in their homes… On the vocational training side, we ask for the creation of one day per year dedicated to eco-responsible gestures, like for first aid at work. I am not an expert but I am someone who is informed and aware. I am well aware that our 149 measures will be acceptable for citizens who are as informed and aware as I have been.

With regard to the referendum, I would like to prove that these are not plebiscitary referendums. The French are not accustomed to being asked for their opinion, outside election periods, as is the case in Switzerland, for example. In my opinion, citizens would be prepared to travel every six months or once a year to answer two or three major questions. But this is not in our institutional DNA. Just to modify article 1, it is a way of the cross with the Senate whereas it is a consensual question.

 

Missions Publiques: The Convention proposed “only” three measures in a referendum. You have put your proposals in the hands of the elected representatives. Is this a sign of confidence in the institutions?

 Grégoire Fraty: It is finally reassuring that this vote has put the responsibility back on the national institutions. There are members of the Convention who did not vote before and who are now running on electoral lists. With hindsight, this makes sense, particularly in relation to the criticism of our legitimacy. We did not conceive it in opposition to those of the elected representatives and we immediately understood that the Convention had its place in the institutions and not in confrontation. Our mandate also stipulated this: a place between the Government and the Parliament. It would have been simpler to have a place “next door”.  But we found that place. Today, parliamentarians are addressing us on the substance. It is a real pleasure to start a hearing at the National Assembly without having to justify who I am, where I am speaking from, etc.

 

Missions Publiques: Let’s go back to the last session of the Convention, which voted on the Government’s consideration of the proposals. On the six main themes, no measure was given the average score. On the one hand, a small number of members had decided to vote zero on everything, and on the other hand, one of the few measures taken “without filter” (namely the amendment of the Constitution) received a score of 6/10. How do you analyse this?

Grégoire Fraty: There are indeed about twenty people who played the all-or-nothing game and decided to use the experience. They therefore voted without taking into account the hours we had previously had with the support group, where we had noted that about ten measures had been taken up and were in green in our monitoring table. The amendment to Article 1 only received a score of 6/10, whereas it was word for word our measure… It is a political response, therefore, which I do not judge but which does not answer the question asked. By voting between 0 and 6, and if the final mark is 3.3, it is therefore the average. This is the analysis I make of it. If we had had a real, factual vote, we would still have got bad marks, but they would have been analysable. Today, the politicians are going to get rid of them because these scores have no value. Yet another proof that the Citizens’ Convention is over and that political time has returned.

When asked whether the Citizens’ Climate Convention was useful, the score was 2/10. To the question “Should there be more Citizens’ Conventions”, the result was 7/10! This is inconsistent. Citizens know full well that they have been useless. At the beginning of the Convention, we were 90% pessimistic. Today, a dozen measures have been passed. It would have been more useful to organise a vote at the beginning of the Convention to judge the attacks.We have been very ambitious. I will go even further: none of us had any hope that our 149 proposals would pass. The “without filter” was interpreted differently but as Sylvain (another citizen) said, it was our “poison” during the debates.

Our measures do not have an expiry date, they will continue to live!

Missions Publiques: According to the Multinationals Observatory, the industrial lobbies have waged a “shadow war” against the Convention and have therefore sabotaged it. What do you think about this?

Grégoire Fraty : We listened to everyone : from the craftsman who militated to renovate with straw to the French federation of buildings, who alerted us to the lack of straw etc. We were all very interested. We gave them a weight, we can’t blame the government for doing so too. On the other hand, it seems to me that certain arbitrations are not fair. Some measures have been unravelled for disastrous reasons, such as the measure on the regulation of advertising. In the future, I would very much like to see real regulation of advertising, a new Evin law: a strong law that would make it possible to change the daily lives of French people and their consumption patterns. But our measures do not have an expiry date, they will continue to live!

 

Missions  Publiques: In view of your commitment throughout these 18 months, you are in favour of recognising the status of participating citizen… and what future citizens’ conventions do you envision?

Grégoire Fraty : I believe that citizens must have the means to fulfil their mandate in this type of exercise, whether at a national or regional level, such as the Occitania Citizens’ Convention for example. Behind this mandate, there are rights and duties. Some members have worked night and day and spent whole weekends there. Over the 18 months, I took 3 weeks of unpaid leave and I don’t count the time taken from my personal life. Being a manager and teleworking, I could do it and I was happy to do it. It is illogical, however, that people who have a more constrained work environment, less financial means or less understanding employers cannot do it. This status would quite simply make it possible to respond to a public order.

I would like to see future citizens’ conventions on the end of life or the 4th age, which would cover issues of retirement, euthanasia, care; a convention on the legalisation of cannabis with the place of drugs and the underground economy, and finally a convention on work with all the issues surrounding employment, the way in which contracts are conceived, the place of trade unions, etc.? Citizens’ conventions on major social issues that give citizens’ intelligence the opportunity to flourish. The climate was perfect.

 

 

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