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Title: The French budgetary process
Author: Lord, Guy
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1969
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The budgetary process has recently attracted far less attention than the Plan and with a few notable exceptions, students of politics have shown little interest in the budgetary process. In France the budget is still the preserve of a few experts in the Faculties of Law whose research, however, is chiefly concerned with the legal aspects of the process and pays little attention to its administrative and political implications. Some have also argued that with the development of a sophisticated planning machinery the budgetary process loses most of its previous importance as a process for the taking of crucial economic and political decisions. Although it is true that the existence of the Plan has far reaching and complex repercussions on the Government bugetary policy - some of which are mentioned in the thesis - it remains that in France the Plan is not a substitute for the budget. Indeed, from the point of view of the Government, the budget is still the main and in many cases the only channel for the enactment of policies both at the governmental and parliamentary levels. The Plan's objectives can be achieved only if the policies of the annual budgets are in accordance with them. Hence, when the budget is prepared and discussed participants are conscious that much is still at stake. The aim of the thesis is to describe the French budgetary process as it operates today: how economic and financial decisions are made in the framework of that process. Who intervenes, when and for what purposes? The budgetary process needs to be approached as an administrative and governmental decision making process rather than a purely legislative or accounting process. We do not neglect the latter aspects but we consider that, in France as in many other countries, budgeting is more concerned with the question of how to take the right economic and financial decisions than with the question as to whether public funds are spent according to appropriations. Hence, our approach differs from that of most French writers who start with the assumption - legally correct - that the budget is decided in Parliament and then conclude, comparing the IVth and the Vth Republics that Parliament has lese decision making power now than under the previous Republic. As a result, they neglect the administrative and governmental parts of the process and these are now, as in England, the crucial ones. We do not pretend to be in a position to unveil every decision in the administrative and governmental stages for this is largely an internal process. But, mainly because civil servants and parliamentarians have shown great understanding for our research, we hope to have been able to make some inway into it. In some cases we have had to rely on a limited amount of information and some iinterpretations may well appear as tentative, but as G. Devaux, a former Head of the Budget Division aad author of a revealing book on the French financial administration has remarked: "Je cours le risque d'être accusé d'interpréter l'histoire. Mais je crois que les erreurs historiques les plus lourdes sont commises par ceux qui se dérobent a toute tentative d'interprétation". Budgeting is a traditional function of the State. It has given rise to well entrenched rules and habits. The progressive evolution and transformation of the budgetary process as well ae the impact of the reforms of the Vth Republic can only be understood in their historical context. Budgeting takes place within a legal and constitutional framework, for unlike planning, the budgetary process is by tradition a formal process. For example, decisions must be taken within precise constitutional time limits and must be expressed by way of well defined words and figures. These rules are known to civil servants, parliamentarians, interest groups, etc. and their skillful use may put some participants in a better position to influence decisions. Moreover, some of these rules (annuality, equilibrium of the budget, etc.) are the object of much controversy and political discussion. Occasionally, we deal with some of these questions for they deepen an understanding not only of the budgetary process but also of French politics. The process itself consists in the annual exercise of drafting and voting the budget. It is therefore necessary to follow the budget through its various stages, from the first tentative projection to the final version as approved by Parliament, and to describe the nature and functions of the various bodies which intervene in the making of the budget, during its elaboration and vote. Many jurists and economists tend to forget that budgetary decisions are answers to central political questions -"who gets what and how". However, when the budget is prepared and discussed, participants in the process fight hard either to get the funds they need for the initiation and continuation of the policies they are interested in or, as in the case of the Ministry of Finance, to maintain their control over Government activities. To see how the process looks from the inside we have interviewed more than sixty participants in the budgetary process to discover their aims, attitudes and strategies - officers of spending ministries, staff of various Division in the Ministry of Finance (particularly in the Budget Division and cabinet of the Minister of Finance), officers of the Planning Commissariat, advisers in the offices of the Prime Minister and the President, parliamentary staff and parliamentarians. We have been allowed to consult files at the Division of the Budget, in the cabinet of the Minister of Finance, and even at the Elysée, as well as in the parliamentary committees. Some of this information is secret, but we have reproduced some confidential documents in the appendix. Finally, since bugeting is an annual process, there is something to be learned from a case study of one budget. The last chapter traces the administrative, governmental and parliamentary progress of the 1967 budget. It shows how the system works when a particular budget has to be prepared and voted aud illustrates several aspects of our earlier analysis. It also deals more fully with the parliamentary stage of the budgetary process. We hope therefore, for the first time in any language, to have shown how the French budgetary process actually works as an exercise in executive and administrative decision making, how the institutions of the Vth Republic really function in this central matter of Government and how it looks to those actively engaged in the process itself.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Budget ; France