Our history

Since 1995, the history of the CNDP has been a constant reinforcement of participatory democracy in the environmental field.

When were we created ?


In 1995, after numerous environmental debates, in particular around the "TGV Mediterranean", France institutionalized citizen participation, taking inspiration from the Quebecois experience of the public hearing office.

The law of February 2, 1995 on the protection of the environment, known as the "Barnier Law created the commission responsible for organizing public debates on projects with a significant impact on the environment.

The aim is to organize public participation as early as possible to discuss the objectives and main characteristics of the projects, at a time when it is still possible to reconsider and substantially modify them.

The law considers that the public inquiry, which has existed since 1810, comes too late, at a time when it is no longer possible to fundamentally rethink the project

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The CNDP was not really created until September 4, 1997. The first organized public debate was for the project “Port 2000” in Le Havre, France. The CNDP was set up as a "third party guarantor" of the debate, as a neutral and impartial entity. However, it was not yet independent, since it had to consult the ministers before organizing a public debate. 

2002 The CNDP became an independent administrative authority

From 1997 to 2002, the CNDP organized 6 public debates. In France and in Europe, there are intensive works on participatory and environmental democracy


The Aarhus Convention (1998) lays down several principles that France is required to abide by. 


At the end of 1999, the report of the study group chaired by Nicole Questiaux recommends that the CNDP be transformed into an independent administrative authority. It considered that the public debate allowed the public utility of a project to be assessed. It cannot therefore be under the supervision of the authority that declares this public utility, i.e. the State. 


The law of 27 February, 2002 on local democracy (lien vers le pdf: loi-democratie-2002.pdf, titre loi démocratie de proximité 2002) made the CNDP an independent administrative authority. It acts on behalf of the State, but receives neither orders nor instructions from the government.

2002 - 2016 A continuous expansion of the CNDP's powers

The 2002 law on local democracy substantially broadened the CNDP's powers and enshrined the principle of participation in the French Code for the environment. The law : 

  • requires project owners to refer matters to the CNDP, depending on the importance of their project; 
  • extends its competence to projects carried out by "private persons" (i.e. essentially companies); 
  • gives the CNDP the power to organize a public debate or to recommend its organization and to guarantee it by appointing a person responsible for ensuring that the principles of participation are respected (a guarantor). 

The law also states that the CNDP is free to issue any recommendation or opinion in the field of participation. 


The Charter for the Environment enshrines the principle of participation in the French Constitution in 2005. 


The law adopted in July 12, 2010, known as the "Grenelle II law", further increases the main duties of the CNDP, which is composed of 25 members.

In particular, it requires that the public be informed of the outcome of the public debate: the entity responsible for the project is obliged to specify what he or she retains from the debate, and why.  

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2016 CNDP, the guarantor of the right to information and public participation

The tragic death of a young opponent of the Sivens dam in 2014, prompted public authorities to rethink the environmental dialogue. It was emphasized that projects, deemed to be of a smaller scale, can be highly conflictive and should be able to be debated by the public. The report of the commission on environmental dialogue, known as the "Richard report" which was presented in June 2015, therefore recommended to generalize "upstream consultation". 

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The ordinances of 2016 creates new rights to participate: the project owners of smaller projects can voluntarily refer to the CNDP so that it appoints a person responsible for guaranteeing consultation; if they do not do so, a representation of the public can refer to the prefect to request the consultation (right of initiative); several plans and programs with an impact on the environment are subject to participation procedures (the multi-annual energy programme, the National Strategic Plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) ...). The CNDP is composed of a pool of people, the guarantors, who ensure the implementation of the principles of participation.

Chronology of applicable texts

2020, 25 years of existence

In 25 years, the CNDP has organized 101 public debates, guaranteed 296 consultations and carried out 31 consultancy and expertise missions. Most of its activity is the consequence of the 2016 ordinances, which increased the number of files submitted to the CNDP sevenfold.

The evaluation of public debates shows that participation has had a systematic impact on projects. Only 3 projects were abandoned after the public debate. 58% were modified in their design and main characteristics. All the other projects had their governance procedures completely overhauled. The CNDP has established the principles that are now the pillars of participation (lien vers la page : ‘The Commission'): independence, neutrality, transparency, argumentation, equality of treatment and inclusion. 

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  • Published on 14/04/2021
  • Last update : 14/04/2021