In 2001, during the National Assembly debate on the law on ‘proximity democracy’, a relatively small minority defended the idea of ‘participatory democracy’. They shared the position of the Motivés (the ‘motivated’), a group of young people involved in associations in Toulouse who com pared these two terms by declaring that ‘we should not confuse proximity democracy – which enables local elected representatives to keep their finger on the people’s pulse … – with participatory democracy. This formula, which is more active in nature, aims to empower people to become actively involved in the decision-making process’. 1 This ‘pro-participation’ current was fairly close to the one which inspired approaches such as Cordoba or Grottammare. Bernard Birsinger, who was communist Deputy Mayor of Bobigny at the time, was particularly active in this debate. Three years later, the town, along with several others, committed itself to introducing a participatory budgeting process. However, an observer from Brazil would no doubt have felt lost if he or she had witnessed the ‘scene of everyday participatory life’ that took place in a public building near the Town Hall one November evening in 2004 and provides a good example of the proximity democracy model. The ‘All-democratic Bobigny' Forum
In the four or five different forums organised at town level within the context of the ‘Participatory Assizes’ in 2004, the most active inhabitants demanded a session on participatory methods. The meeting started just after 8 pm. There was no podium facing the room, but rather tables set out in the manner of a huge restaurant. Some of them, reserved for distinguished guests, appeared to be more prestigious than others. As usual, the Communication Agency Campana-Eleb was in charge of organising the meeting, and the overall impression was one of a talk show. There was a good turnout: about 130 people showed up to take part in the discussion and to listen to the Mayor, his staff and the many guests (elected representatives and members of NGOs from other towns, a university lecturer and so on). The participants were clearly working-class and represented a variety of ethnic origins. About one-third were women, and there were a few young people, too. People spoke up freely, and many ‘ordinary’ people, with little experience of public speaking, did not hesitate to express their ideas to the many people in the room. Was it the ‘talk-show atmosphere’ of the meeting which made them feel more at home, or because the journalist who moderated the discussion made sure that people got their chance to speak, or was it the result of hard-won trust, built up over the previous meetings? No doubt it was a mixture of all three, but it was a rare enough occurrence to be of note. From the outset, the Mayor announced that he had an open mind, and that he would take the outcomes of the discussion into account. He closed the discussion, which had lasted for over two and a half hours, with a general speech. He confirmed that the Town Hall wanted to introduce a participatory approach, and reminded the participants of the work already carried out, making general reference to the struggle against neoliberal globalisation. This conclusion did not sum up the discussion: in this meeting, dedicated to procedures, nothing had been planned with regard to deliberations leading to regulated decisions or specific recommendations. The inhabitants expressed their complaints and made their proposals, while the elected representatives listened and discussed things, and also announced some new proposals. They made the final decision about the proposals put forward during the debate and summarised the evening’s discussions in a purely subjective manner.