The Conseil d’État today published its study of the French authorities’ audit and investigation powers with regard to companies and citizens. In this report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, the Conseil d'État notes the stratification and multiplication of the powers granted to the authorities (government departments, independent authorities) and the lack of any overall vision. It is putting forward a harmonisation of practices and a simplification of powers and jurisdiction in order to improve the conduct and efficiency of these audits which form an integral part of our social pact.
Responding to a strong demand from society, audits guarantee that all citizens are equal before the law and that a certain fairness is maintained in economic and social relations through the sanctioning of offences. These audits concern four main areas: public finance and social security; health, safety and the environment; consumer protection and competition; and finally, rights and freedoms.
However, this demand from society has led to a proliferation of laws and a multiplication of the powers granted to the authorities, without sufficient overall logic or any global strategy. In its study, the Conseil d'État has for the first time compiled an inventory of these powers and is making recommendations for harmonisation at the national level.
Powers of audit with no genuine global vision
In its study, the Conseil d'État lists all of the authorities with investigation and audit powers: ministries, decentralised departments, independent administrative or public authorities, etc. In total, approximately 55,000 civil servants work on audit assignments.
The Conseil d'État notes the proliferation of texts and audit procedures. This variety of procedures generates two major problems: firstly, confusion for the citizen or company faced with various types of audit during the course of his lifetime and, secondly, a hindrance for the authorities confronted with the variety of procedures, which undermines their effectiveness.
These powers are not always allocated in accordance with an overall strategy. Indeed, officials within certain authorities have many audit powers which they sometimes do not use or even know about, while other authorities don’t know what to do with the arsenal at their disposal. This results in confusion within the authorities and a dispersal of competences.
Guaranteeing citizens’ rights and harmonising the practices of the authorities
In its recommendations, the Conseil d’État defines three main themes: harmonisation of the investigative and audit powers of the authorities, simplification of powers and competences and better escalation of information from audits, for greater transparency regarding the activities of the authorities.
In order to harmonise audit powers, the Conseil d’État proposes the establishment of a “common foundation” which would combine audit systems and rules to enable the authorities to harmonise their practices, as was previously done for the rules concerning relations between the public and the authorities. This foundation would include an audit charter, given to the individuals audited before the visit from the authorities, giving them all of the key information on the procedural rules, their rights and also the possible consequences of the audit. The establishment of this common foundation meets two major objectives: to guarantee access to the law for citizens and to improve trust between citizens and the authorities.
The second area of recommendation is the simplification of audits, which involves first of all the simplification of the texts use to designate the competent agents. For example, in the field of the environment, 70 categories of agents divided into 25 monitoring units have jurisdiction to carry out audits, each with its own specific administrative and judicial system. It is also based on the training of agents and the evaluation of the powers awarded to the authorities according to their use and usefulness, in order to avoid them ending up with powers that are disproportionate with regard to their uses or objectives.
Finally, an effort must be made to ensure that the authorities are transparent about the conduct and results of their audits. The introduction of steering tools and coherent indicators must ensure improved escalation of information from audits so that the authorities can better report on the audits carried out by them. The authorities must also communicate more transparently on the use made of these powers, in particular, in their annual activity reports.