Central-Local Relations in French Energy Policy Making and the Environmental Shift: towards a New Pattern of Governance between State and Local Authorities?
Governance and Globalization
POUPEAU François-Mathieu - CNRS (Author)
Sciences Po - Institut d'études politiques de Paris
Governance and Globalization : 19
After a long period of centralization, local authorities have been taking a new place in the French energy sector. This revival began in the 1990‟s, with the process of liberalization, which gave them new rooms to manoeuvre. They recovered old competences that had fallen into abeyance after the creation of national public monopolies and gained new ones. A new turning point has been passed over the last few years with the agenda-setting of energy efficiency and climate change issues. This was linked to a new strategy of the State and the idea that these problems require to “act (more) local”, such a level being considered to be efficient in terms of proximity, reactivity or coordination capabilities. For the first time, local authorities were explicitly recognized as active protagonists of the energy policy in France (law POPE of July 2005, „Grenelle de l‟environnement‟). Some practitioners and academic researchers consider this stage as a major institutional innovation which initiates a new model of governance. In this contribution, we propose to discuss this hypothesis and to show that this change of paradigm in energy policy making (the energy efficiency and climate-change watershed) had not yet lead to major evolutions in the central-local relations. If one cannot deny that local authorities have been developing new institutional capacities for the last decade, their role is still quite limited. Their revival must therefore be interpreted as an aggiornamento of the former centralized model of governance. Three explanations will be mobilized to illustrate this thesis. The first one is due to the contradictions inside State apparatus about the place to give to local authorities. Nowadays, two main public policies impact the French energy sector: the liberalization process on the one hand, energy efficiency and climate change issues on the second hand. In these two policies, the “local level” has not the same status. For the former (competition), local authorities are considered as a threat to market running. Consequently, the stake is to reduce their capacity to act. For the latter (energy efficiency and climate change), local authorities are considered as useful levers to strengthen State action and make it more efficient. The implicit hierarchy existing between these two policies, in favor of the competition policy, is a first factor that explains the persistence of a centralized model. The second explanation has to do with the system of actors that are involved locally in energy issues. Due to the existence of many levels in the French political system, due to the way the energy sector was build in the last century, numerous actors coexist locally, each one having its own competences and resources: „communes‟, „intercommunalités‟, „syndicats départementaux d‟énergie‟, „départements‟, regions. This fragmentation reduces the capacity of local authorities - among others the cities, which are especially concerned by environmental issues - to implement public policies in energy. A third and last explanation needs to enter the “black box” of local authorities and to put attention to staff expertise (lack of human resources to deal with a complex matter) and to political involvement (the way local politicians consider energy issues). This is of great importance too, to avoid overestimating the place energy issues occupy in the agenda of local authorities.