The French Senate rejected a motion calling on the government to introduce basic income, but it still decided to form a parliamentary commission aiming at investigating the idea.
Last week was a busy week for basic income in the French Senate. The National Assembly had already debated the topic of basic income several times in the past few months (amendment to the Budget Bill of 2016 and Amendment to the National Digital Republic); it is now the Senate’s turn to look deeper into the question of a basic income implementation in France.
Jean Desessard, Senator from the Green Party, who had contributed to the organization of a debate in the Senate last year on this same topic, tabled a draft resolution on May 19th that called on the government “to take the necessary steps to introduce a basic income”. This political move lead to almost two hours of debate (see the video here) among Senators from left to right, most of whom declared that they were open to this idea yet needed to dig further.
Most MPs admitted that basic income was an interesting issue that needed to be explored in more of its details, potentially with the funding of feasibility studies and pilot-projects. Only a few MPs were more cautious, fearing that basic income would discourage people to work and would promote laziness.
The resolution was eventually rejected by a large margin. In fact, only the Ecologist group (parliamentary group composed with MPs from the Green parties: EELV and Ecologistes!, and one MP from the Socialist party), and one Conservative MP voted in favor. However, the fact that the Socialist group and the Centrists decided to abstain signalled that they did not oppose the topic in principle, but rather the actual proposal of committing the government to implement it directly. They thus showed that they were open to the debate and willing to study further the possibilities on the topic.
In fact, the Socialist group decided in parallel to support the initiative of its member Daniel Percheron, who proposed to form a parliamentary ‘mission of information’ that will enable MPs to work on “the interest and possible forms of implementation of a basic income in France”. Within this framework, 27 Senators from different political groups will debate the topic and present their results by the Fall. The French Movement for a Basic Income was consulted on the 9th of June on this matter.
Given all these political moves, not only in the Senate but also in the National Assembly as well as from some members of the current government, we can now say that basic income has reached a milestone in the public debate, and will certainly be a key topic in the upcoming presidential and general elections to take place next year.
Sunday #41 March (April 10th), place de la République in Paris. Hundreds of people were present to discuss the basic income and other topics related to employment. The French Movement for Basic Income attended the meeting thanks to the invitation of the #NuitDebout movement. This citizens’ movement was created following demonstrations against the proposed French labour reforms and has since organized several popular gatherings in Paris as well as in dozens of towns in France and abroad.
Employment, housing, refugees, feminism, participatory democracy, constitution. Many subjects, concerns and values were discussed every day at the Place de la République since March 31. These discussions demonstrated the real concerns of citizens without the filter of the media. With the revelations from the Panama Papers, public institutions, particularly political parties, do not seem to inspire much confidence.
On this #41 March (lets accept this new calendar!) two dozens of MFRB members from all over France have met on the Place de la République to take part on the first day of the convergence of struggles. The atmosphere was rather cordial. Questions and answers were exchanged with passers-by all day long. A conference was held with the MFRB, the Réseau Salariat network and the Economist and basic income supporter Baptiste Mylondo.
Workshops, co-facilitated by members of the MFRB and the network Réseau salariat, have enabled hundreds of people to discuss the basic income, living wage and on matters related to work as well as education, equal opportunities, free time, and many other topics. By late afternoon, a debate enabled participants to better understand these topics.
At the beginning of the afternoon, Nicole Teke, international coordinator of the MFRB, introduced the conference presenting the French Movement for a Basic Income, the notion of basic income and how the idea is currently progressing in France, Europe and the world. Past experiments in Brazil, Namibia and India were also presented, the results of which in terms of health, schooling, women’s emancipation and economic recovery are very convincing.
Benoît Boritz, member of the CGT trade-union (General Confederation of Labour), journalist and author of the book Coopératives contre capitalism (“Cooperatives against capitalism”) has presented examples of companies that are self-managed by their employees in forms of cooperatives (SCOP). This form of organisation has been gaining ground since 2010, as a number of companies have chosen it for its greater capacity to ability adapt to an evolving economy. The SCOP often aims at integrating ecological issues in their production and daily operations. Since 2013 the SCOPs’ number has grown considerably, and today they employ about 51,000 workers.
Following this, Baptiste Mylondo, member of Utopiaand teacher in economy and political philosophy presented his counterproposal to the labour reforms, in five articles:
Article 1: Recognize everyone’s work by giving everyone the status of producers and contributors, whether one is unemployed or employed, active or considered inactive.
Article 2: Free work from the constraint of employment. “We all work every day as volunteers in a large organisation called society” said Baptiste Mylondo.
Article 3: Establish a sufficient citizen’s income to a level equivalent to the poverty line calculated at 60% of median income, i.e. 1,000€.
Article 4: Set up a cooperative working model to free us from the grip of capitalism and exploitation.
Article 5: Free our lives of work’s temporal control by a reduction of working time and the creation of an unconditional right to chosen part-time work.
In conclusion, Baptiste Mylondo specified his thoughts and suggested what could be the first reform to be associated with the introduction of a basic income:
“I speak about a sufficient income, not a minimum income. About a space of acceptable inequalities. To escape poverty and exploitation, to create a society where everyone can participate in democratic life. I am in favor of a ratio of 1: 4 between the lowest income and the highest one.”
Finally, Stéphane Simard, member of the network Réseau Salariat, presented the living wage project – different from basic income, even though some similarities can be noticed. Starting from 18 years old, this life-long living wage is based primarily on the evolution of labour in the twentieth century, mainly through the creation of the general scheme of Social Security in 1945. The amount could increase by validation of qualifications – in regard to the individual’s contribution to the society in the previous years. This living wage would be financed through an overhaul of the contributions’ system. Each company would contribute with 60% of its added value to the salary fund, meaning the same 1250 billion now paid for salaries, and another part would be paid into an investments office that would be dedicated to financing projects as an alternative to bank loans.
Convergence of struggles
Dissociation of labour and income, the need to change subordination to work, the willingness to recognize everyone’s contribution to the common good, the recognition of social utility, the interest to the SCOP initiatives… The convergence of struggles supported by the #NuitDebout from the very beginning of the movement has definitely enabled basic income to take a prominent place in the public debate.
Article originally written in French by Basile Durand (MFRB), translated by Henri Geist (MFRB).
Answering the meteoric surge of interest provoked by the Finnish proposition to experiment with the basic income, the MFRB organized a conference on March third regarding UBI pilot programs and the Finnish Embassy in Paris. This conference was aimed at promoting understanding of the Finnish proposals and its motivations as well as opening the debate about the possibility of starting UBI experiments in France as well.
The conference was organized around four speakers and centered around the basic income and its experiments. The speakers included Olli Kangas, director of the research department of KELA (Finnish Institute of Social Welfare); Martine Alcorta, Aquitaine Limousin Poitou-Charentes regional councilor delegated to social and societal innovation, who aims to test a basic income in her region; Arnauld de l’Épine from Ars Industrialis, an international association for an industrial policy of the spirit technologies (founded by Bernard Stiegler) who said he is in favor of a contributory income; and Jean-Eric Hyafil, co-founder of the MFRB (French Movement for a Basic Income).
This article summarizes the discussions and includes some tweets exchanged during the conference with the hashtag #rdbfinlande.
Finnish experiments will start in 2017
Finland is currently in the process of establishing definitions and studying the feasibility of a basic income experiment. To cope with the complexity of social protection and the risk of poverty traps, a debate on the establishment of a universal income has taken shape in recent years. An intermediate report showing four types of experiments is due to be published in the coming days. Then Finland will choose one of the four experimentation options, which will be presented in the final report this November. The goal is to start the pilots at the beginning of 2017, which will run for a period of two years.
The first proposal offers a basic income distributed to everyone without conditions. The second proposal is a form of unconditional RSA, replacing the current social minima benefit. The third option is creating a basic income through a negative income tax. And the fourth option is left open for now. The questions of the amount of the basic income, the number of participants in the study and the unconditional nature of the benefit are also still under debate. On top of that, there are some additional concerns that must be sorted out, including fear of constitutional litigation or residency requirements. The introduction of the basic income requires a total overhaul of the welfare system, and this generates tension with some groups in society, particularly labor unions, which are major actors in the current system.
In France, a change of paradigm is necessary
Quoting Amartya Sen, who wished that everyone improved their own abilities without being constrained to find a job, Arnauld de l’Epine insisted on the importance of the freedom of choice, referring to the Declaration of Philadelphia or the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers which states that “Every individual shall be free to choose and engage in an occupation according to the regulations governing each occupation.” Building on the report of the French National Council of Digital, introduced in January, which proposed to experiment and study the project of basic income in France, Arnauld de l’Epine then supported the idea of establishing a guaranteed income to deal with automation and the rise of unemployment. The association Ars Industrialis is collaborating with Plaine Commune (agglomerations community of Seine-Saint-Denis) to test a supplemental income targeting young people.
Jean-Éric Hyafil recalled the cross-party nature of the MFRB. In its charter, the MFRB promotes an unconditional basic income without impairing the situation of the helpless or jeopardizing unemployment allowances, retirees or health insurance. Thus, one of the MFRB’s proposals would be to implement a national basic income gradually. The first step could be to implement an allowance like the RSA (French Solidarity Labor Income) for children, then by automation, individualization and finally the universalization of the RSA.
All speakers agreed on the need to experiment with a basic income prior to fully implementing such a policy, mirroring the process in Finland and Netherlands. In France, the experimentation project in Aquitaine is still in its embryonic state. But the agreement signed between EELV (French Ecologists) and the PS (French Socialists) during the last regional elections included the basic income experimentation project. Martine Alcorta stated she needed to study the subject in order to propose an experimentation model. The settings are thus not yet set. Quoting Amartya Sen. “Wealth is the ability to choose your life”, Martine Alcorta showed us her willingness to complete this experimental project.
France could therefore use the Finnish proposal to build its own experimentation, adapting it to the French context. By raising the subject, submitting ideas and reporting the various proposals, this conference gave us the opportunity to highlight the growing debate about the basic income. The MFRB stays at the disposal of all communities that desire to think about this important Twenty First Century idea.
A report commissioned by the government to Member of Parliament Christophe Sirugue recommends a complete revamp of the French welfare system. This could constitute a major stepping stone towards the introduction of a basic income.
In October 2015, the French government commissioned the Socialist MP Christophe Sirugue to conduct a review of the welfare system in France and formulate a proposal for improving and simplifying of the existing social benefits schemes.
The report entitled “Rethinking Social Minima” was released on April 18th and remitted to the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. The report (available here) suggests three possible ways to revamp the welfare system:
Simplify the architecture of the existing system by implementing 12 measures to reduce its complexity and make it more fair.
Reduce the number of social minimas from ten to five by merging them.
Create a “common protection floor”,which would in effect be a complete revamp of the current system, by ultimately replacing all of the ten social minima.
The last proposal, which is favoured by the author of the report, is distinct from a universal basic income. In fact, although the report comprehensively reviews the idea of basic income and stresses some of its merits, it excludes its implementation for now. One of the arguments put forward is that basic income is a bigger issue than the scope of the report, which only aims at improving the welfare system while basic income is implicated with other societal debates, such as the changing nature of work.
The French Movement for Basic Income, which was consulted by MP Christophe Sirugue, notes three main points of progress in the conclusions of the report:
Opening the minimum income scheme to people from 18 to 25 years old.
Making social benefit payments automatic.
Partially individualizing the minimum income.
The Prime minister Manuel Valls welcomed the report, which is seen as “both pragmatic and ambitious” and has already asked all his ministers to work as fast as possible to implement the proposed reforms.
Confusing statement from the Prime Minister
In a confused statement on his Facebook page, Valls claimed that his government was opening the debate on “universal income” in order to implement it by 2018, while immediately making it clear he meant something very different than a universal basic income:
“Not a benefit paid to everyone including those who have sufficient income – it would be too costly and meaningless – but a targeted grant to all of those who really need it.”
“Unfortunately, the debate seems to be poorly started if the terms of the topic are not well defined,” responded the MFRB in a column in the newspaper Le Monde to clarify that universal basic income must indeed be universal, while debunking the idea that a full basic income was not affordable.
Many other media outlets and politicians – including Socialist MP Pascal Terrasse – reacted similarly, revealing once again the rapidly growing interest and support for the idea in France. Earlier this year, a report by the Digital Council also recommended running a basic income experiment.
The French Republic’s main consultative body has announced that it will undertake an assessment of the potential economic impact of introducing a basic income in France.
The Economic, Social and Environmental Council’s (CESE) announcement on March 22nd that it has launched a referral on basic income as a way to “re-start economic activity” marks another major political breakthrough for the basic income movement in France.
The CESE, sometimes called the “third assembly of the Republic,” is a consultative assembly composed of 233 members representing employers associations, trade unions and civil society groups from different social, economic and environmental areas.
The CESE usually publishes reports at the request of the French government or parliament, but it also has the authority to conduct self-initiative reports, as its economic activities section exercised in this instance.
“Maintaining strong economic demand – particularly through consumption – is an essential driver of stability for economic stakeholders.” This, the CESE explains on its website, is one of its main reasons for investigating basic income. Furthermore, the referral emphasizes the fact that high unemployment, poverty and precarity are undermining economic demand: “The fact that a significant – or even growing – part of the households are outside of the production (and therefore consumption) flows is a burden for our economy and a systemic threat.”
The CESE will undertake a two-step study. The first phase will explore the parameters of a basic income policy and provide an overview of the various experiments already carried out.
The second, more ambitious, phase will assess the potential consequences of introducing a basic income on, among other factors, domestic consumption, different sectors of the economy, entrepreneurship, social inclusion, employment and demographics across the regions of France.
Once the rapporteurs of the study are designated, civil society stakeholders will be invited to contribute. The economic committee will then develop and present a report, which will be ultimately voted on in a plenary session by all CESE members. If accepted, the final report will then be presented to the prime minister, the National Assembly and the Senate.
This new development follows an increasing wave of interest towards basic income among the French political class for the past few months.
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more