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Democratic renewal: success and failure

The citizens of Saillans have realised a form of participatory democracy. (c) Isabelle Barruhet / flickr.com

People have been gathering every night in Paris since the end of March in the “Nuit debout” (Up all night) movement in order to discuss a world that is democratic, environmentally friendly and socially more just. What French cities dream of is already being tested for real in Alpine villages.

The core thought of the Paris movement is that all citizens should participate in the decision-making process. But a small village in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is already one step ahead. The village of Saillans (pop. 1200) has seen citizens turning politics on its head. The last straw was the building of a supermarket on the edge of the village, which was planned over the heads of the inhabitants. This was the latest in a series of decisions that the then mayor had taken without consulting the local population – as is too often the case in French policymaking. The resistance to the project produced a citizen’s movement that was given political legitimacy in the ensuing elections. Now it is not just one individual who decides on the fate of the village, but rather the inhabitants of Saillans together, in various working groups and configurations without any set hierarchical order. In the meantime, hte project to build the supermarket has been rejected.

Something similar has also been tested in other municipalities, but not always with the same success, at least not at the first attempt. Samoëns, a village in Haute-Savoie with some 2,200 residents, was confronted with a large-scale project by the Club Med hotel chain. The investor, with the support of the municipality, wanted to build a 1000+ bed hotel complex, including 40 luxury chalets. Here too the citizens wanted to get involved in the decision-making process, but could not achieve any political legitimisation and therefore attempted to gain access to the process by legal means. For a while it seemed that the citizens would succeed in their objections; but some days ago it was announced that the building of the hotel complex would begin. No further information was given regarding the decision-making processes and reasons.

Source and further information: http://reporterre.net/A-Saillans-les-habitants-reinventent-la-democratie (fr), http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/2014/03/29/a-saillans-les-1-199-habitants-ont-tous-ete-elus-premier-tour-251062 (fr), www.ledauphine.com/haute-savoie/2016/05/09/club-med-la-construction-va-finalement-pouvoir-debuter (fr)

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