A New Feudal System

Does an elected official have the right to do whatever he likes ? This is in any case the impression given by more and more mayors who deliberately ignore the law and court decisions. The State seems to have patently resigned itself to this new reality and the French Ministry of Culture stands out particularly for its lack of any reaction. Are we still living in a democracy ?

A mayor who does not give a damn about court decisions. Another one who every year does as he likes and acts without the permits required by law. We allude in the first case to the town of Gesté (see here) and, in the second, to the city of Orleans where, one year after totally breaking the law, the "florist" mayor Serge Grouard is a repeat offender, reinstalling on the rue Jeanne d’Arc his "vertical flowerings" (see article, in French), in flagrant violation of laws regulating zoning and heritage protection.

Decentralization in France has obviously graduated to higher speeds, but no longer observes democratic principles : these local squirelings, feeling empowered with an elected legitimacy which does not however imply a blank check for breaking the law, now believe themselves above it. This is legal because I say it is.
Normally, in a true democracy, rules are issued (by the legislature), they are applied (by the executive branch) and their non-observance is sanctioned (by the courts). If one of these branches declines to exercise its power or is not able to so because it is too weak, then democracy no longer exists.

Too complex, overlapping in ever more abstruse layers, laws are often difficult to enact. The judiciary branch in many cases shows a certain number of frailties but it nonetheless continues to carry out its role.
Obviously, and this is more and more evident in the domain of heritage protection, the weakest link in this chain is the executive branch. We can legitimately ask ourselves the following question one more time : what is the French Ministry of Culture doing ? What is it doing in support of its civil servants working in the field who, every day, run up against the haughtiness of some elected officials and their indifference to heritage ?

Our target here is indeed these decision makers, these politicians who are too weak and do not wish to stand up to local tyrants whose networks and influence, at times reaching the highest levels, often frighten them from applying the law. We are also familiar with the almost complete indifference shown by the French Minister of Culture for heritage and museums. She deluded us into thinking for a very short time that she was more determined than her predecessor. But has she shown any results ?

She asserted her opposition - in a very discreet manner by the way - to the demolition of the staircase at the Bibliothèque nationale. No matter : the directors are waiting out the clock, refusing to study another project, probably thinking that ministers pass and that they will eventually get what they want.
She displayed courage by applying for the listing of all the old buildings on the rue des Carmes. Congratulations were due. However, the administrative tribunal cancelled this decision, a dangerous initiative which might establish a legal precedent. We therefore expected the Ministry to appeal. No such thing. No doubt petrified by its own audacity, it has settled for acknowledgement of the court’s decision and suggested that heritage associations take over. This is exactly what they are doing, once more replacing a failing State.

To be fair, the registration of the two houses on the rue des Carmes and the invalidation by the Architect for the Bâtiments de France (thus by the French Ministry of Culture) of the permit to demolish the others still protects the street from the mayor’s relentless hounding. But we wonder until when and if he may not win out in the end. Serge Grouard, who might unfortunately be reelected, obviously thinks he can do anything he likes.

We could quote many other examples of the progressive decline of a Ministry where the employees and financial means continue to vanish. Feudalism : "Behavior of certain professional or social groups wishing to gain independence from the State or exercise pressure on it" (dictionnaire de l’Académie) [1]. This is the definition of the current state of affairs in France.

Version française

Didier Rykner, samedi 18 mai 2013


Here is the right of reply sent by the Mayor of Orleans (and our response to his).


[1] "Féodalité : Comportement de certains groupes professionels ou sociaux voulant se rendre indépendants de l’Etat ou exercer une pression sur lui"

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