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* La question mondiale
* Service public
* Questions urbaines
* Solidarité internationale
Europe, the future of Public Services? Public Services, the future of Europe?
Democraty and social bonds
Simona PASCA - I work as a volunteer for an Italian association Cittadinan attiva. We deal mainly with participation by citizens. We see these in wider terms than users or consumers. We want participation to take place in all decision-making processes involving citizens. We act towards a new type of culture and want to go beyond the traditional notions of rights and duties, towards a culture of powers and responsibilities. We are very interested in the idea of services in the general interest in relation to access to basic rights. What interests us most is not how these are organised (market or not), but what they are made of, particularly when we are witnessing a decrease in economic resources. We are most interested in the content, quality and access to the service.
Philippe Brachet (Paris-X University) - After a conceptual introduction, I will concentrate successively on contributions by Taylor, Hayek and Walzer.
only communicate through misunderstandings! This truth is confirmed through
the different concepts of freedom and democracy in the works of liberal
(and other) writers. We will nevertheless try to clear misunderstandings.
dialectic is prevalent in the relationships between democracy and social
links: that of ends and means, the latter in the service of the former.
But democracy is a concrete utopia which, like the horizon, tends to disappear
as you move towards it. Its historical manifestations have always produced
a feeling of non-fulfilment and incompleteness as demonstrated by Pierre
This is what we have tried to do over several sessions in this conference. I will concentrate here on contributions by Taylor, Hayek and Walzer, whose works illustrate the diversity within liberal thinking. In fact, talking about Liberalism generally and in the singular, as though it were a single, homogeneous way of thinking, is for me intellectually dishonest.
I - The concept of freedom is a cause for controversy amongst liberals. It is two-sided: negative freedom (preservation of the private sphere) and positive freedom such as self-management, i.e. common purposes. This socialised view of freedom can then be aligned with the equality principle and compromises can be reached.
his thesis , Charles Taylor is totally opposed to individualism, which
he sees as fragmentation and non-commitment of the individual. Man is not
an isolated being who creates himself through the highest choice of values
and through rational ends. Values exist as social realities in the socio-historical
space in which our personal history unfolds. It does so in the form of
learning experiences taking place in a number of social situations. Solitude
itself is a social relationship. Furthermore, man always lives for the
future and through projects. They are the meeting point between what he
has become and where he is aiming for. The social dimension is present
in both cases. Taylor and other liberals believe in "personalism", in which
the social dimension of personal freedom is creating social links which
bind democracy together. What Taylor calls "malaise amid modernity"
can only be understood in this way. Its attraction, particularly among
the young, rests in an idealistic concept of authenticity. When it takes
the form of "soft relativism" it may seem to reject socialisation and citizenship.
This is because conditions in our modern world tempt people into such rejection
and drifting has a certain stamp of authenticity. Public authorities are
therefore responsible for defining and creating democratically "policies
of egalitarian recognition"; these, among the young in particular,
will overcome the risk of fragmentation , i.e. the inability to plan for
a communal way of life and to achieve it.
- Hayek on the contrary, is obsessed with communist and Nazi totalitarian
ideologies and favours a radical form of individualism which distrusts
democracy and sees social links as negative. Public services are identified
with socialism, and society, seen in totalitarian terms, is in conflict
with individual freedom provided by the market conceived as "spontaneous
In order to denounce scientism as a global view, Hayek ends up with the paradox of another form of market orientated dogmatism; historical sociology puts into perspective the contributions and excesses of these individualistic ultra-liberal views.
Hayek has denounced the excesses of State intervention exemplified when
public services get bogged down in the defence of acquired rights and corporate
interests; when in the name of an absolute concept of equality they are
inflexible and fragmented, the social links they should provide stifle
rather than bind.
these rest in the assimilation of public service activities to obstacles
to the spontaneous order when they go beyond their framework function.
The deregulation of railways in Britain and their near-disappearence in
Argentina are the most caricatural examples of the social consequences
of such aberrations.
- Unlike Hayek who always speaks of freedom in the singular,
Walzer distinguishes between different types of freedoms in political,
economic and social areas. Like Rawls and Taylor, he is a republican and
- importance of in-depth democratic debates which bring citizens and public powers closer to each other,
-equality of rights as a guarantee of the exercise of minimum power and the possibility for the exercise of wider powers,
-interaction between voting, i.e. the basis for representation principles, and the participation principle makes democracy possible.
Finally, "complex equality" in politics is synonymous with active citizenship: in a democracy the latter must be present in the political arena and in all other areas.
This view of modern democracy does not ignore territorial levels but assumes common strands in civilisations. If the organisation of services of general interest in Europe is first and foremost the responsibility of political powers, it will test the ability of the European Union to become a democracy in its own right. Complex equality and compartmentalisation represent important methodological tools towards this goal.
P. BARGE (Paris 8 University) - A lot of things have been said and I will obviously be somewhat redundant. I have re-read contributions by colleagues; it would be difficult to take up all points and I will at times be somewhat caricatural. I will put things up for discussion and further analysis and will situate myself from a political rather than an economic point of view.
Liberal theories start from the premise that the market regulates the economy as well as society. A lot has been said about spontaneous order and the predominance of the market. Such theories see legal regulations as organising factors in society, ways of codifying the general interest. From these premises we may wonder if such a legal view of the general interest is really compatible with truly democratic States.
citizenship to democracy
of general interest (SGI) and the general interest
S. PASCA - About suitability for representation - When you talk about representation of users, are you talking about elections?
P. BARGE - If we have a service of general interest in a given territory we can imagine for example all the inhabitants of that area electing representatives. I would like to put this forward for discussion.
S. PASCA - Then we should first define the nature of the services. The question of representation is more complicated. It includes different levels.
J-C BOUAL - For strictly bureaucratic reasons people, in France and the European Community, want to enclose representation within structured organisations. Practical things are more simple and reality show us that it is more complicated than that. In Brazil, in Porto Alegre, a city of several hundred thousand people, a population which sometimes cannot read is involved in a project over more than 15 years including consultation, participation and elaboration of the budget. The question of suitability for representation has not arisen. There have been meetings with the authorities, and delegates were eventually elected to produce work of higher practical and technical levels with city services. Participation and democracy can take place in all social circles if the will exists at all political levels. In Italy, the Movimento Federativo Democrativo (Democratic Federative Movement) renamed cittadinanza Attiva (Active Citizenship) thinks that in order to represent users in a given area on health issues, all people living in that area (from a certain age) can take part in the election of the association's managers. Representation is stronger when there are no conditions to membership. Suitability for representation has not been acquired through contributions and internal bureaucratic organisation. The European Liaison Committee on Services of General Interest (CELSIG) has acquired legitimacy with European institutions, particularly on the problematic public service/ European Community, in France and at European level; this has happened through networking with a large number of other associations (publication and elaboration of texts and proposals, debates on these texts and documents) informally and without the statute of a European association, as a de facto association. The question of user representation could be seen in wider and more democratic terms. Bureaucratic practices were developed at the time of the industrial revolution and are obsolete today.
S. PASCA - I agree with you. In Italy, a new law has created difficulties for consumers and associations. You said that "the market can bring about democracy". Proper regulations can correct the effects of the market in the area of social exclusion
P. BARGE - About democraty - I may have been misunderstood. I wonder whether extreme liberal theories are compatible with democracy. Collective citizenship through the right to vote implies political representation. I am not talking about existing systems and present political representations. Political representation dictates what is relative to representation of the general interest. At some point collective citizenship becomes political. This is not what the public choice school of thought would like to hear: on the one hand, we have a category of individuals or companies with specific interests, and on the other, States which are supposed to defend the specific interests of individuals and companies; public choice proponents are then able to reduce democracy to a quasi -market. We have a political market where electors would defend individual interests and where political powers would guarantee these. It is neither my idea of citizenship, democracy nor politics.
Ph. BRACHET - Diversity in liberal thinking - There are no single liberal views and I am sorry to hear Pierre Barge talk about liberal thinking. He is alluding to economic liberalism, to ultra-liberalism which wants to generalise market practices. It is not in our interest to dump all liberals into one, a mistake both intellectual because it denies their wide diversity, and strategic, because you should isolate your adversary.
State control in France - You have said that "in principle, political powers are providers of services of general interest". This defines faithfully French State control which rests on confusion between the threefold functions of direction, regulation and operation: these take place internally, in obscurity, and through decisions by main State agencies. On the other hand, partisans of democratic and modern public services want the three functions to be separated. Public powers define directions and therefore the regulation framework, but do not provide themselves because "provision and administration are two separate things".
F. FOURQUET - (to Pierre Barge) Consequences of external effects on user representation - A number of thing make your presentation very interesting. User representation by public service agencies may not be the best formula because any public service activity has external effects which affect more than the service they represent. Madeleine Stéfani mentioned a postman, who while distributing letters to older people could detect problems and warn the hospital. Any representative caught in a bureaucratic framework loses some of his strength. We see this with students who, unless they kick up a din, do not have much to say. Is the question of public service and democracy necessarily synonymous with that of user representation? I'm not convinced of this. There are problems with external and contradictory effects. How do you deal with the contradictions in your system? The TGV (very high speed train) is good for users. There are plans to extend it from Tours through the South West and all the way to the Spanish Basque Country. Will the SNCF take all this on board? Democracy, social links and public services represent a much wider field.
S. PASCA - In Italy, when services forget those they are meant to serve, there's a risk. You need to know people's needs to provide a service. Elected representatives and consequently the State cannot know that, particularly at local level where the question of the responsibility of citizens arises.
F. FOURQUET - Intervention by users has to go beyond the strict framework of the service. The local community must be involved and is necessarily larger than the users of a specific service.
P.BARGE - There are a number of regulation areas, and consequently several levels for intervention. In the case of the Somport tunnel in the Pyrenees , should there be a referendum in the valley, in Midi-Pyrénées Region or in Aquitaine Region? Initial choices will dictate results. Different political levels carry different types of general interest. Individual autonomy is in constant conflict with the general interest; we all live simultaneously as individuals but in a community. Individual and collective rights always clash with one another. Elected politicians decide on collective rights and the general interest. This system is far from perfect. We need to create other opportunities for democratic participation so that citizens have some control on types of participation; these will improve the orientation and regulation of SGIs. Regulatory domains can also become global.
S. PASCA - Citizens need to be considered as a resource rather than a hindrance.
VAHABI - (To Philippe Brachet) - About Hayek - Has Hayek Stated that
the spontaneous order in the context of the market excludes institutions,
legal regulations or collective agreements? If so, where?
(to Pierre Barge) - About the public choice school of thought - You said that the public choice school reasons in terms of quasi-market, of political market. Does it forget all external circumstances, the impossibility theory, the notion of collective assets and whatever can promote group interests? Do public choice theories ignore all these aspects relative to the existence of public assets, of something which goes beyond individual interest? You presented them as people who defend individual interests. Are we not caricaturing their theories to demolish them more easily?
BRACHET - Hayek went through a number of phases in his positions as
in his life. His ultra liberal views go back to the period following the
second world war: for him the greatest risk lay in the reconstruction of
Nazi or Stalinist totalitarian regimes, and this had to be stopped. Even
though his own positions are much more complex, he was made the high priest
of the dogmatic theories which constitute ultra-liberalism. We are here
in the sociology of knowledge, i.e. in the production of a dogma. An ideology
is the restructuring of intellectual fields which borrow from different
authors, but it is also the product of a culture and class. Hayek has been
both the object and subject of this process.
P. BARGE - I would like to reply with a joke. Do you think that the search for pleasure is what all individuals are after and that the satisfaction of this pleasure resides in the consumption of goods or services, whether these are or not on the market?
M. VAHABI - It has nothing to do with the question.
P. BARGE - From this we create the Walrasian balance of forces.?
M. VAHABI - It has nothing to do with Walras.
P. BARGE - I asked this question out of provocation. It does not mean that the Walrasian balance of forces or the public choice school of thought do not raise questions, but what I am asking is different. In relation to what I know of mankind, its rights and its societies, I am entitled to start from different premises, to ask questions and offer different answers. It is not a matter of asking or not asking the right questions, but of having from the beginning a basic concept of society and to develop a broader view in relation to this. This is what interests me.
S. PRAVATTO - Are we not creating a public service market? - We need to distinguish between those who provide, define and assess public services. These are three very different actors. Some are clearly defined: the State for example is responsible for the definition of public services. If we take the example of the TGV and assume that it really provides a service, we could imagine a German company in its place. We will end up with a rather interesting and paradoxical situation: a public service market. If Europe and Member States are setting new rules with regard to invitations to bid, are we not creating a public service market? Does the market not extend to all market activities?
S. PASCA - Why not? It's a good idea. In the end the important thing is to have a quality SGI. Who will manage it? That's another question.
J-C. BOUAL - This is already the case in air transport. Lines are defined by the State and European airlines are invited to bid. Out of forty public service lines defined by the State on French territory, the majority are managed by subsidiaries of British Airways. There is a levy in which each airline passenger using a French airport helps finance public service airlines. Foreigners and French alike contribute, though less so in the case of the former.
S. PASCA - We should also look into the role of citizens with regard to tendering. An experiment is being carried out on forms of participation by citizens in the definition of bids and also at points of control.
BAUBY - User participation and countervailing powers - In Pierre Barge's
distinction between the three categories (provider, operator and user),
the word 'provider' is wrong because it is used to describe the organising
authority whereas it often means the operator. To avoid this confusion,
we need to describe it either as that which defines or as the organising
S. PASCA - I particularly agree because representatives are often volunteers. It is not a job and you have to take availability into account and allow organisations to use a number of people. If we think of ecology, other disciplines involve transport, refuse Family organisations or representatives in schools can be involved in ecology.
A. MORDANT - . We need to interest users and give them the possibility to express themselves - If users are going to be able to express themselves systematically and permanently, it will have to be organised. Our society is organised in a such a way that means will have to be found, managed and financed at local levels. There are preliminary conditions. Information systems cover huge areas and make speedy distribution possible. It may be necessary to define primary assessment grids (even if not entirely perfect), and agree on suitable structures so that information can flow towards places where it can be consulted by the whole of the population (i.e. locally?). During (systematic) elections, committees would be appointed and given absolute responsibility for user consultation. Premises and infrastructures would be made available and supervision would not be required. All agencies in charge of the organisation of public services must systematically supply within strict deadlines specific information. The dissemination of information is essential in our culture. Groups like ours should define what type of initial information on the content of a public service should be given to the public (with possible modifications later on). They should also consider in what ways users will be able to express their opinions on services. It will involve advertising. Authorities will need to give information on their availability. Without a structured organisation, I fear that people will lose interest. There is a necessary legitimacy which should not be confused with political agencies.
S. PASCA - Il n'existe pas de participation sans information. Sur l'organisation, on pourrait discuter longtemps.
SIMPSON - Sur la représentation - Je suis d'accord avec les idées
de P. Barge sur la représentation. En Grande-Bretagne, les consommateurs
étaient représentés par des bénévoles
étant des gens très réactionnaires. Ce n'est pas simplement
en choisissant les bénévoles qu'on arrive à avoir
un système qui va marcher dans le sens de la solidarité sociale.
S. PASCA -There is no participation without information. We could talk for a long time about organisation.
4.3.13. About representation
SIMPSON - I agree with Pierre Barge's views on representation. In Great
Britain, consumers used to be represented by volunteers who could be very
reactionary people. We will not move towards social solidarity simply by
choosing to use volunteers.
G. MULLIER - Where user committees exist, they often ask for the limitation of the right to strike.
S. PASCA - Unions can make alliances with users, they have things in common. We should not indulge in this opposition and play into the hands of the companies.
P. BARGE - To avoid any of the doubts raised by Pierre about my mentioning public provisions, let us talk about public obligations. When I say that it is a public obligation, I feel quite strongly that there may be organisations in "civil society" which create their own services of general interest and therefore do not submit to a public obligation. If these services obey the same regulations as the SGI (equality of access, no closure of the service), then there isn't a problem.
Ph. BRACHET - There are two rights of equal importance: the right to strike for agents and the right to the continuity of the service for users. In practice, these rights are often in opposition with one another. Consultation should be organised so that this inconsistency be addressed, preventively if possible and then through arbitration of conflicts
BRACHET - What we can get from Taylor and Walzer - For those in favour
of a democratic, modern public service, the main contribution by Taylor
and Walzer lies in their views on modern democracies, their complex organisation
and ways to approach them, which is essentially helpful for us. We feel
here that the person's basic rights will lead to a recognition of the SGI
in Europe: we need to work on the differences between the concepts of the
"person" and the "individual", as in individualism. We go back to
Taylor here whose works deal with real problems in Canada. Taylor is labelled
as a "communitarian" by partisans of State control such as J-P. Chevènement,
but this is too easy and ideological. Taylor stresses that modern individualism,
through the ideal of authenticity, conceals in fact aspirations towards
exacting forms of socialisation. When frustrated, these are repressed and
then expressed in violent ways. Such theories are important to understand
for example, the relationships of deprived, suburban youths towards public
services such as the RATP (the Paris- Ils de France public transport network).
XX - About information - Before we start thinking about public services handling of information, we might want to ask whether they have information. I started working in the former Poste Télégraphe and Téléphone (PTT) at a very low grade, and I've spent all my life swindling the boss. When I rose in the ranks, I spent my working life concealing what was happening from my immediate boss. When I became a top accountant, I could see things which had nothing to do with what was on paper. Few people at the top realise what is happening at the bottom. Crozier has analysed the subject, his descriptions are correct but his conclusions are wrong. All levels of a company are not equally competent. A user can be given the wrong information by an agent who is ignorant.
MORDANT - I would prefer P. Bauby not to say that delegates in companies
are corrupt and in the pay of bosses.
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