Defending the right to information and public participation...
The National Commission for Public Debate is the independent authority in charge of guaranteeing the right of any person living in France to be informed and participate in projects or policies with an impact on the environment. This right is enshrined in Article 7 of the Charter for the Environment.
This public "right to debate" also helps to improve the decisions of project owners and policy makers. It sheds light on the values, expectations and questions of the public. The CNDP is a neutral authority whose duty is not to appreciate the appropriateness of the projects or the policies concerned. Our role is neither to get projects accepted nor to get them abandoned.
... on the development of projects with an impact on the environment
Public participation guaranteed by the CNDP takes place from the beginning of a project until the public inquiry, i.e. during the development of the project. It takes place from the outset, at a time when it is still possible to abandon or modify the project, when the "why?" and not only the "how?" can be questioned. If, after this first phase, the project owner decides to go ahead with the project, the law provides that the CNDP must ensure the public is informed and involved until the public inquiry.
The CNDP must be consulted for the largest projects, and can voluntarily be consulted for projects of lesser impacts. The fields of projects with an impact on the environment are:
- Energy and climate: wind, photovoltaic, nuclear and hydraulic projects, etc.
- Transport and mobility: roads, railways, airports, ports, etc.
- Industrial equipment: factories, mining...
- Scientific, sports, tourist or cultural facilities...
- Waste and circular economy.
It is also competent for the plans and programs applying environmental public policies, such as the multiannual energy programme, or the national plan for the common agricultural policy.
Ensuring the constitutional right to information and public participation
Article 7 of the Constitutional Charter for the Environment states that "everyone has the right, under the conditions and within the limits defined by the law, to access information relating to the environment held by the public authorities and to participate in the preparation of public decisions affecting the environment”.
The CNDP ensures that this right is respected in the preparation of projects, plans and programs having an impact on the environment, under the conditions defined by the Environmental Code.
It is seized by the people in charge of the projects, but also by the government, members of parliament, communities, approved associations and citizens through their right of initiative.
The CNDP has not the power to refer matters to itself.
Organize public debates and guarantee consultations
Public participation in the project development process takes several forms, depending on the cost, the category of the project and its stakes. The CNDP's role is to determine, for each project, the form public participation should take:
- It may decide to organize a public debate, that it will independently manage and organize. It validates the information file, and sets the timetable and the participation procedures.
- It may entrust the project manager with the organization of the consultation. It then appoints one or more guarantors who will ensure that the right to information and participation is respected.
At the end of a public debate, or of a consultation for projects defined by law, the CNDP appoints one or more guarantors who will ensure that the public's right to information and participation is respected until the public inquiry (or participation by electronic means). It therefore guarantees continuous consultation.
Reporting on the results of the debates
At the end of the consultation or the public debate, the CNDP draws up a report (minutes and/or assessment) which is sent to the project leader and made public.
This report is written independently and neutrally, and does not contain any opinion on the merits of the project or the arguments put forward by the public. It provides a detailed mapping of the arguments of all the participants of the debate. This report issues recommendations to the project leader to ensure that the public's views are properly taken into account.
The project leader is obliged to respond in detail, within three months, to these recommendations and to indicate publicly what he or she has retained from the debate or the consultation.
Develop a culture of participation
The CNDP also has an educational and methodological role to play in publicizing debates, its principles and values to the people, institutions and project managers. It may issue opinions or recommendations. It may be called upon to provide advice or expertise. Through its public interventions, it contributes to the diffusion of the values of participation
In the event of a potential conflict over projects with an impact on the environment, the commission may be asked to conciliate. The objective is to restore the dialogue between parties and reach an agreement on the terms of participation. It must be referred to the commission by the parties concerned.
These values are derived from the law and the concrete practice of public participation since 1995.
The CNDP is an independent administrative authority (“autorité administrative indépendante” (AAI)). It is not under the supervision or the authority of any minister. Its members are irremovable for the whole duration of their mandates. Its decisions are not subject to any approval or authorization. This status allows it to be independent of the project leaders, the authorities and stakeholders. The guarantors it appoints must be totally independent from project leaders and stakeholders (meaning they have no direct or indirect links of interest with them).
The members of the CNDP and the people it appoints must remain neutral in all circumstances. By no means may they express an opinion or a position on the projects submitted. The reports or summaries issued must only relate the public's contributions in an exhaustive and factual manner, without qualifying them. The recommendations concern how to better guarantee the public’s right to information and participation.
The CNDP must ensure that all the information on the project is made available to the public in the context of a debate or a consultation. It may decide to request additional expert opinions and refer the matter to the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents. It ensures that no questions are dismissed, that no censure is exercised and that no opinion is set aside. In the context of a public debate organized by the CNDP, all the questions asked by the public must be answered by the project leader. The CNDP ensures that the answers given are complete and sincere.
Equality of treatment
Every person concerned by a project must be informed of its existence and be able to participate in its development. The CNDP does everything it can to ensure that these people, whatever their status, opinions or motivations are, can freely express themselves and be treated fairly and equally. This is the only way for public participation to be fully legitimate.
The CNDP does not measure the "pros" and "cons” in a debate, but merely asks people to argue their support or opposition to a specific project. Participation is a process of exchange and discussion: it must enlighten the decisions of project leaders and, more generally, decision-makers. It cannot be compared to a survey or a referendum. The quality and diversity of the arguments exchanged, not their quantity, allows the reflection to progress.
All publics must be able to exercise their right to be informed and to participate. The CNDP takes into account the differences in situations and ensures that those who are the furthest from the decision are able to participate. Beyond the diversity of informative and participative tools, it ensures that participatory methods are adapted and inclusive, so that it does not reproduce existing barriers in the access to decision-making forums.
For further information
- Published on 14/04/2021
- Last update : 27/04/2021