Joint Joint Committee: When Deputies and Senators Can't Get Along

The coin spins and we don't know which way it will fall

Joint Joint Committee: When Deputies and Senators Can't Get Along

The coin spins and we don't know which way it will fall. Do deputies and senators necessarily have to reach an agreement in a joint committee (CMP)? The law provides that in case of disagreement, a new reading is organized in each chamber before a final decision of the National Assembly. One in five texts adopted under the Fifth Republic is the result of successful cooperation behind closed doors between parliamentarians. A third of that 20% resulted in a disagreement.

When General de Gaulle and Michel Debré established it, this meeting between four walls had no precedent in France. They can sometimes give rise to ineffective but comical debates. What if this was the case on the pension reform? A look back at some negotiations that went wrong between parliamentarians.

On Wednesday January 8, 2020, the elected representatives of the two Chambers meet behind closed doors to decide on the Avia bill to combat online hate. Defenders of freedom of expression and regulators of offensive remarks have been crimping their buns for several weeks in and outside Parliament. The discussions then stumble on the obligation to remove any hateful content published online within 24 hours, under penalty of heavy fines. The flagship measure of the text is deleted by the Senate. "This device is legally unfinished, contrary to European law and unbalanced, to the detriment of freedom of expression", considers the rapporteur of the text in the Upper House Christophe-André Frassa. Discussions in CMP will not change anything. The commission is “not conclusive”, can we read on the brief report written at the end of the meeting between parliamentarians.

Same scenario at the beginning of January 2022. Deputies and senators meet in committee to discuss the burning bill establishing the vaccination pass. Four hours of bitter discussions are not enough for elected officials to agree on a common text. Bruno Retailleau delivers the fatal blow. The debates are not yet over when the boss of the LR deputies writes on Twitter: "The CMP on the vaccine pass has agreed with the Senate, it is the victory of common sense. The senators obtained many clarifications and simplifications. The pass is meant to protect the French and nothing else… No offense to Emmanuel Macron. Political considerations can take precedence over ideological considerations.

Ten months later, the majority became relative to the National Assembly. Who says relative majority says mandatory agreement with the opposition to pass reforms. All the more difficult as the majority is outvoted by the right during the CMP. In November 2022, the elected officials of the Palais-Bourbon and Luxembourg are once again looking behind closed doors at the 2023 budget. 30 minutes are enough to understand that they will never be able to agree. “Things were quickly seen,” admits the rapporteur for the Senate Social Affairs Committee, Élisabeth Doineau. The traditional opposition vote against the budget forces the government to draw several 49.3s in a row.

The CMP is generally done at the request of the government. Since the constitutional reform of 2008, the presidents of the two Chambers can also ask for it to be held. During the last pension reform in 2010, opposition parliamentarians did not fail to stand out. The two communists, the deputy Roland Muzeau and the senator Guy Fischer, had slammed the door at the start of the meeting. Unfortunately for them, an agreement was reached. "The CMP is the only place where the government is not present, and this gives the legislator, sometimes, the freedom to qualify the weight of majority discipline", writes the former member of the Constitutional Council Jean-Jacques Hyest in his work The CMP, mysterious place of power (Seuil).

Composed of 7 deputies and 7 senators, the mixed parity committee must find an agreement on a text between the two Chambers. Otherwise, the Lower House makes the final decision. Paragraph 2 of Article 45 of the Constitution is clear on the subject: "If the joint commission does not succeed in adopting a common text [...] the government may, after a new reading by the Assembly national and by the Senate, ask the National Assembly to rule definitively. Among the 14 invited to this closed meeting are present: four representatives of the majority, including the president and the rapporteur of the committee seized, and three representatives of the opposition.

In the event of failure of the CMP on pensions, only one new reading will be examined per chamber, due to the accelerated procedure. On the other hand, in the event of agreement, the text will be submitted Thursday to the vote of the Senate then to that, much more uncertain, of the Assembly, for its final adoption. A symbolic but more than precious vote at a time of strong mobilization in the street.