France Mulls Proposal To Ban MPs Over 70 Years Old

France mulls age cap on MPs
A general view of the Senate during the elections where Gerard Larcher was elected as president of the French Senate in Paris, October 1, 2008. Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

France's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is considering a proposal to introduce an age cap on politicians seeking election after a government-backed report recommended it as a measure to include more young people in politics.

The report made a series of recommendations including lowering the voting age to 16 years old, limiting the number of terms which an official can serve in the houses of parliament to three, and banning politicians over 70 from standing for election. Although youth minister Patrick Kanner is considering the measures insisting they can make a positive difference, the concept of an age cap has provoked accusations of ageism from MPs.

The bill has since been attacked by members of both the ruling Socialist party as well as by the opposition Republican party (formerly known as the UMP). Bernard Debré, 70-year-old Republican MP, told public broadcaster Europe 1 that an age cap would be a "denial of democracy," adding that if similar measures were in place in the past it could have sidelined figures such as Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, who were both elected to lead their countries while in their seventies.

Socialists Jérôme Guedj and François Loncle also criticised the plans. Guedj called it "a dangerous idea" and "real ageist discrimination" on his Twitter page, saying that he feared it could lead to an age cap on driving or voting. Meanwhile, according to conservative daily Le Figaro, 73-year-old Loncle said: "I consider myself to be in better shape than many of my colleagues in their fifties, and I work more than a lot of them."

The idea was not universally opposed however, as some MPs thought it would be a good way of encouraging younger aspiring parliamentarians. Socialist Jean Glavany, aged 66, said MPs needed to "encourage change in politics," telling RMC radio that he hoped to "apply these principles" to his own career when the time for him to step down came.

According to French daily newspaper Le Monde part of the reason behind the passionate negative response to Kanner's report may well be because France's legislature has one of the oldest groups of MPs and senators in Europe.

The average age of lower house members is 59 while the average age of senators is 62. In the UK the average age of MPs is 49 while in the House of Lords the average age is 50. Meanwhile 60% of France's parliamentarians are 60 years old or older and thus approaching the hypothetical retirement age.

Republican leader Nicolas Sarkozy's main presidential rival within his own party, Alain Juppé, would be one of the most high profile casualties if the cap was introduced before the 2017 presidential election as he is currently 69 years old.

Kanner has said that there is no impending decision concerning the recommendations of the report being implemented at present and that they were intended to stimulate debate.