1In May 2009, the National Assembly adopted a new ruling which included, among other things, the possibility of sanctions against members of parliament who were too frequently absent from their standing committee meetings. Up until this moment, and according to article 162, MPs who participated in less than two-thirds of public votes during a session could see a third of their duty allowance withheld; the funds withheld could be doubled for members who had taken part in less than half of all public votes. However, this measure was never applied. Under article 42 of the new ruling, it is absences from Wednesday morning committee meetings which are targeted: these can trigger the withholding of 25% of an MP’s allowance.
2Introducing this measure to the rules governing the Assembly was an attempt to address a two-fold concern evoked during parliamentary debates. First of all, according to the rapporteur himself, Jean-Luc Warsmann, it was the logical consequence of the constitutional revision of 23 July 2008, under which it was the working committee’s text which was to be examined during plenary sessions, rather than government projects.  Members of parliament also put forth a second justification, agreement on which was not unanimous: the measure sought to mitigate the effects of anti-parliamentarianism and thus avoid elected officials from being uniformly discredited, despite the fact that a large number of them take their mandates very seriously. It is undeniable that the adoption of the new ruling’s article 42 comes on the heels of a series of incidents that highlighted the limits of the efficiency and effectiveness of the work of MPs. Media pressure and the demands of citizens’ associations  following the rejection of the HADOPI law regarding Internet piracy on 9 April 2009 prompted its adoption. Fewer than 40 MPs (out of a total of 577) were present to vote on the bill proposing the creation of a Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur Internet (HADOPI – Authority for the Diffusions of Works and Protection of Rights on the Internet, often called The Creation and Internet Law), which allowed the opposition to block the bill. Likewise, in May 2008, due to the absence of a large number of UMP representatives, a point of order put forth by the PCF allowed the opposition to delay the adoption of a law regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the wake of such events, several monitoring centers and Internet sites were created in the hopes of raising greater awareness about the activity (or non-activity) of members of parliament.  With regard to the European Parliament, the website “Parlorama” began to establish rankings for each Euro-MP according to a number of different criteria; the site was unfortunately forced to shut down, due to pressure and threats by a number of elected officials. 
3Public awareness of the damage caused by MP absenteeism, in regard to both parliamentary influence on the legislative process and public opinion, thus led to the introduction of these new and more restrictive measures. Adopted by the National Assembly on 27 May 2009, the ruling was then gradually implemented in the months that followed. The reform of parliamentary working practices was part of a larger project to restore the balance of power among the institutions of the Fifth Republic, which are strongly marked by their founders’ attempts to “rationalize” parliamentarianism.  By making the work of MPs more efficient and granting a larger role to committees within the legislative process, reasserting the value of parliament was one of the objectives specified in 2008’s constitutional reform, the most important of its kind since 1958.  Outlined by the Balladur Commission, the guidelines for this reform sought in particular to loosen the straightjacket which tightly restricts the individual activity of parliamentarians in France, and to increase the rights of the opposition. 
4Although it is too soon to determine all the effects of the 2008 reform, it is nevertheless possible to identify some of its consequences on the primarily legislative activity of the National Assembly. A study conducted by the Jaurès Foundation found that since the reform bill was passed, the number of amendments put forth has sharply decreased, while the number of amendments adopted has slightly increased. This quantitative shift correlates to a change in how amendments are used – no longer simply as obstructionist tools, but as true instruments of the legislative process. 
5It is not our intention here to provide a summary, even a brief one, of all the effects and consequences of the 2008 constitutional reform. Based on the observation that a desire exists to strengthen the role of the French parliament, our goal was rather to examine how we could empirically approach MP’s working practices. Specifically, the time elapsed since the adoption of the new ruling offered us the opportunity to question the pertinence of the criteria generally used to evaluate individual parliamentarian performance. It would seem that attendance is only a gross approximation of parliamentary activity, which undoubtedly needs to be analyzed in light of parliament’s specific functions: deliberative, legislative, representative and supervisory. Moreover, the goal of this study was to examine the factors that are likely to explain the individual effectiveness of members of parliament. In particular, frequent public discussions on the repercussions of concurrently holding several offices and on the possibility of limiting or prohibiting this phenomenon were a useful entry point for our investigation.
6By directing our attention in this study to legislative activity, we are participating in the re-evaluation of the role of parliament being conducted by French political scientists. In fact, the criticism that the National Assembly is “a blind spot” for French political science has become less and less valid.  On the contrary, during the last decade or so, we have witnessed a veritable “return to parliament”, which has generated a plethora of studies and publications examining every dimension of parliamentarianism.  This renewed interest has not only manifested itself on a quantitative level; it also overwhelmingly reflects the desire to build upon the contributions of international researchers studying the French parliament or other national parliaments, by drawing on or criticizing such works.
7The theoretical and methodological “opening up” of parliamentary research in France has allowed for a debate on the alleged marginalization of parliament to emerge; it has also given credit to the hypothesis of the rebirth of parliamentarianism in Europe.  The influence of parliaments can be gleaned through the empirical study of their deliberation proceedings and capacity for organizing debates.  This influence can also be measured through quantitative indicators: for example, the number of amendments adopted which were of parliamentary origin.  Our reflections on the effectiveness and efficiency of individual MPs thus harkens back to a now traditional form of inquiry about parliamentary performance.  Such works investigate parliamentarianism and representation. Traditionally, the ability of parliaments to represent their citizens was analyzed through the sociological profiles of their members and the latter’s ideological positions.  This approach relied upon an understanding of representation as a mirror of society. As Hannah Fenichel Pitkin has shown, however, representation is not solely a function of figuration, or embodiment: it is first and foremost a question of acting in the name of another. In this perspective, the focus is on “the nature of the activity itself, what goes on during representing, the substance or content of acting for others, as distinct from its external and formal trappings”.  What a representative does is just as important as his or her characteristics, the way in which s/he is perceived, or even the formal and informal provisions which structure his/her mandate.
8It is tempting to concentrate on votes, as they are a clear translation of the way in which an elected representative attempts to defend the interests of his/her constituents.  One traditional approach has been to evaluate the congruence between the preferences of representatives and those of their constituents.  However, much like the functions of parliament itself, the activities of MPs are varied and complex. The analysis of parliamentary roles has indeed shown how representatives must make choices and establish priorities among the different duties conferred upon them.  This analysis has highlighted the fact that representation occurs through a tangible investment in a variety of specific tasks: speaking, proposing amendments, drafting reports, asking questions, etc. How then are these different activities prioritized, in particular with regard to time constraints, time being a limited resource for MPs just as for any individual? Spending any amount of time on a specific activity means that this activity (or issue) is important, at least according to the MP in question. This is synonymous with an opportunity cost; namely, the sacrifice of another task, including perhaps a presence in the constituency, or, for those combining mandates, the exercise of a local, departmental or regional mandate. But just as the time spent on a given activity is important, so is the result produced by this investment. In other words, we must ask whether or not the time spent was used optimally.
9Analyzing the effectiveness (and efficiency) of MPs thus appears to be a particularly high-stakes endeavor. First of all, the quality of parliamentary work on an individual level is one of the essential components of the influence and credibility of a given parliament in its relationship with the executive branch.  On the other hand, this approach supplements the research conducted on representation that examined the electoral connection through the study of MP voting patterns, legislative production and the political and social characteristics of elected officials, compared to those of the general population.  In fact, the logic behind representation requires that elected representatives “embody” their constituents by their attendance and their votes, but also by virtue of demonstrating their success with regard to all of their various representative duties. In order to go beyond the limits imposed by an analysis of parliamentary performance based solely on attendance in the Assembly and its committees, we have chosen to study the activity of MPs based on new data documenting their different written and oral contributions, amendments proposed and questions posed to the government. We then applied non-parametric frontier methods to analyze representative performance. This concept is understood here in a relative sense: it identifies the MPs who, for any given level of attendance, participate the most in committee work and in the National Assembly. Our approach is thus purely quantitative.
10From a theoretical point of view, this approach is part of a wider reflection on the criteria used to evaluate parliamentary performance. Which criteria should be used to judge if a member of parliament adequately fulfills his/her mandate? Should qualitative or quantitative criteria be considered? Who should establish these criteria? One could argue that, from a normative perspective, citizens are primarily concerned with the global level of activity of their representatives. Nevertheless, the relative performance of individual MPs, all efforts being equal, is potentially decisive for their influence on decision-making processes. It thus gives us information about the ability of MPs to exercise their mandate more or less successfully with regard to its different dimensions.
11From a more empirical point of view, our goal was also to question certain hypotheses that have been posited in the existing literature. Turning to econometric analysis allowed us to identify the role of both an MP’s personal and political characteristics with regard to their attendance. To what extent do age and professional experience influence effectiveness? Do the representatives who occupy key positions within committees obtain better results? Do majority and opposition MPs differ significantly in levels of efficiency? The conclusions of our analysis first and foremost suggest the contrasting role of concurrently holding several mandates, for the attendance and the effectiveness of MPs, respectively. Our study will then continue thusly: first, we shall briefly recall the operating practices of the National Assembly and describe the different activities in which elected officials take part, as well as the factors explaining their attendance therein. The effectiveness of MPs, studied separately with regard to committee activity and overall parliamentary participation, will then be discussed. Finally, we shall bring together the main results of our analysis and investigate their significance and scope.
The parliamentary activity of MPs in the National Assembly
12Any measurement of the individual performance of MPs must take into account the institutional and political constraints that accompany the exercise of a parliamentary mandate. Consequently, our first task was identifying pertinent indicators of activity to evaluate and measure representative effectiveness. After reviewing the main conflicts and resources that go with the role of representative in the National Assembly, we shall present the data collected and proceed to an initial mapping of the situation.
The institutional and political context of parliamentary activity
13Research conducted on the French parliament has largely shown that parliamentarians must juggle the different demands and expectations associated with their position.  The local-national cleavage, in addition to the necessary mediation between legislative, political and social functions, consequently seems to be a constant source of tension and conflict.  These tensions are also expressed in the manner in which MPs utilize their personnel resources. In this light, how associates and parliamentary assistants are distributed would appear to be a valid indicator of the relationship elected representatives maintain with their constituents.  The choices made by MPs must clearly have an impact on the very nature of parliament – whether it becomes a mere talking shop or a true working parliament, to use the accepted terms – as such choices influence a parliament’s ability to wield any significant amount of power.
14Although the French parliament participates in drafting laws, it is also responsible for controlling the executive branch and guaranteeing the link with the electorate. Parliamentary activity, properly speaking, occurs both within specialized committees and in the National Assembly. The constitutional reform of 2008 profoundly altered how the work of parliament was organized: the texts prepared by the various committees would now be debated in the Assembly, instead of the projects coming from the government. Parliamentary prerogatives are exercised by MPs on both an individual and a collective level through a variety of instruments: amendments, legislative proposals, recommendations, reports, questions, etc. Representative attendance and committee contributions thus appear to account only for one part of parliamentary activity, which also includes drafting reports, tabling amendments or exerting discreet forms of pressure on members of government. Public speaking – that is to say, deliberation – also represents one of the essential traits of parliamentarianism.  Committees specifically warrant our attention because of their specialized nature: theoretically at least, the MPs involved are supposed to have a minimum of interest and expertise in the committee’s subject matter. The explanation often given for absenteeism in the Assembly – the unsuitable nature of that space for discussing highly complicated texts – should therefore not apply in the case of specialized committees.
15The division of parliamentary work also expresses itself in the hierarchical relationships that are established within partisan groups, committees and the chamber at large, between frontbench MPs and those exercising specific functions in these different arenas (president, quaestor, rapporteur, etc.). Special duties and prerogatives are associated with each of these functions, justifying the expectation of seeing differences in corresponding activity levels. Moreover, the cleavage between majority and opposition groups is a crucial component in structuring interactions within the National Assembly and inevitably has an impact on how parliamentarians fulfill their mandates. Attempting to measure the effectiveness of parliamentary work means identifying the appropriate criteria to evaluate this work. Taking into account their specific meaning for the Assembly’s functioning and their impact on the legislative process, the variables used in this study to measure individual MP activity were the following: attendance during plenary and committee sessions; the number of interventions, amendments, recommendations and reports; and the number of legislative proposals, resolutions and written or oral questions posed. Unlike previous studies, which have focused on a single parliamentary instrument, our empirical approach is original as it examines all of the key responsibilities of MPs simultaneously.
MP activity data
16Our empirical research focused on the parliamentary activity of National Assembly representatives during 2010. Our data came from two different sources of information, both collected in December 2010. The first source concentrated on MP traits and characteristics. For all 577 French MPs, the National Assembly’s website  lists the following information: gender, age, socio-professional category, political adherence, department and region, the standing committee to which the MP belongs and whether the MP holds other offices (local, departmental or regional). Since the 2008 constitutional reform, the National Assembly comprises eight standing committees: national defense, foreign affairs, finance, law, cultural affairs, economic affairs, sustainable development and social affairs. For each of these committees, each elected representative may occupy one of the following positions: president, vice-president, secretary or member. Each committee is comprised of one president, four vice-presidents and four secretaries. The finance, general economics and budgetary control committee, however, presents an exception, as it also includes a general rapporteur; for the remainder of our analysis, we shall consider this position analogous to a second president. Our second source of information describing parliamentary activity comes from a “public observatory council”  seeking to promote the work of MPs in the National Assembly. This observatory offers an overview of the different legislative and governmental activities of elected representatives. For each member of parliament, the following information is known for the past twelve months: the number of weeks of activity (where the MP was marked as present); the number of committee sessions where the MP was marked as present; the number of oral contributions in committee sessions by the MP; the number of oral contributions in the Assembly, either short (fewer than 20 words) or long (longer than 20 words); the number of amendments signed or co-signed and adopted; the number of recommendations or reports drafted by the MP; the number of legislative proposals or written resolutions authored by the MP; the number of proposals which the MP co-signed; and finally, the number of questions, both oral and written, submitted by the MP.
17These activity indicators correspond well to the different functions traditionally associated with parliamentary institutions: deliberation, representation, legislation and monitoring. It is interesting to note that the activities in question present distinct characteristics along three different axes: the ability of MPs to undertake them on an individual basis and at their own discretion; the effort that each activity requires; and finally, their potential impact on the political process. On the one hand, members of the National Assembly have the possibility of addressing as many written questions as they wish to members of the government: this is an activity which requires little time or energy but which consequently appears to have little effect on the political process. On the other hand, drafting a parliamentary report is a prestigious task which may greatly influence a legislative text – but one must first be assigned to this task and complete it successfully.
MP activity in 2010
18With regard to the data we collected, information about activity in parliament was only available for MPs having already served at least six months in office. Therefore, four MPs had to be eliminated from our sample population; our analysis consequently included 573 members of parliament in total. We shall now describe the parliamentary activity of these elected representatives, distinguishing between committee activity and Assembly contributions.
19Table 1 displays the attendance and participation for each committee. Important disparities appear in the number of sessions attended; this can primarily be explained by the different operating procedures of these committees. Some committees hold many more work sessions than others. The attendance figure for committees during the last twelve months was 42.2 on average; the average number of oral contributions was 50.5. Attendance was higher for the finance, social affairs and economic affairs committees, averaging 50.6, 50.6 and 49.1, respectively. Spoken interventions were more common in the finance and economic affairs committees: 86 and 75.2, respectively.
Parliamentary activity of MPs, by committee
Parliamentary activity of MPs, by committee
20However, strong disparities exist between individual MPs with regard to both attendance and participation rates, as shown by the high associated standard deviations seen above. With regard to the finance, cultural affairs and economic affairs committees, the most assiduous MPs attended at least 110 sessions. For the finance, economic affairs and social affairs committees, the most active members made over 600 oral contributions during meetings. However, in each committee, there was at least one MP who had never spoken (the number was as high as 11 out of 70 for the defense committee). To put these figures in perspective, we also calculated the ratio of oral contributions to attendance for each committee. Based on their attendance rate, MPs were more active in the finance and economic affairs committees, whereas they were less active in the foreign affairs, national defense and cultural affairs committees.
21The individual characteristics of MPs, by parliamentary group and as a whole, are presented in Table 2. Several differences appear between MPs, depending on the parliamentary group to which they belong: Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), Socialiste, radical, citoyen et divers gauche (SRC), Gauche démocratique et républicaine (GDR), Nouveau Centre (NC) and unaffiliated. In regard to activity, short oral contributions of UMP MPs are the least numerous (54 on average, compared to 71 on average for SRC representatives and 163 for the other groups). The same is true for amendments signed (74 vs. 499 and 522, respectively). However, amendments adopted by UMP members were slightly more numerous than those adopted by SRC members (15 vs.12), which demonstrates the power relations between majority leaders and the opposition. The same applies for recommendations and reports (1.1 vs. 0.5), and especially for authorship of legislative propositions (1 vs. 0.2) or co-signing of the latter (19.7 vs. 2.7). Conversely, SRC MPs asked slightly more written questions (51.7 vs. 49.7 for UMP members) and oral questions (2.6 vs. 1.7, respectively); they thus compensated for their weak legislative influence by monitoring their colleagues’ activity.
Parliamentary activities and MP characteristics
Parliamentary activities and MP characteristics
22In terms of individual MP characteristics, Table 2 shows that the SRC group contains more women (28.4%) than the UMP group (14.7%). Although the average age does not vary according to parliamentary group (around 58 for all), large variations occur with regard to professional occupation. UMP members are much more likely to be independent professionals (35.9%) or executives (24.4%) than SRC members, who tend to work in education (20.6%) or the civil service (25%). With regard to holding multiple offices, only 38.2% of SRC MPs are mayors, while 49.7% of UMP MPs and 43.9% of MPs belonging to other groups hold this office. This latter group also holds a local office in 28.1% of cases (19% of UMP or SRC members) and a regional office in 15.8% of cases (12.5% and 10.8% for UMP and SRC officials, respectively). Individual MP characteristics are obviously quite likely to influence their attendance. For example, those parliamentarians who have important responsibilities outside of the Palais Bourbon [the seat of the National Assembly] will naturally find it harder to participate in parliamentary work. We thus studied the impact of individual MP circumstances on the number of weeks they were active during their last twelve months in parliament, and on the number of committee sessions they attended. The explanatory variables used were gender, age,  professional occupation, parliamentary affiliation and extra-parliamentary responsibilities (mayor, local office, regional or general councilor). We likewise introduced variables relating to committee membership in order to explain committee presence, since some committees have many more members than others.
23We estimated a linear SUR model  that would simultaneously explain the two attendance measures of MPs: the number of active weeks and the number of committee sessions. The results of our econometric estimates are displayed in Table 3. With regard to global parliamentary activity, age, gender and professional occupation had no significant impact on the results; the same was true for parliamentary group affiliation. On the other hand, the holding of multiple offices affected the number of sessions attended. Being a mayor reduced the attendance average by 1.8 weeks annually, while regional offices reduced it by 3.1 weeks per year. It is thus apparent that holding multiple offices has a negative effect on parliamentary attendance. 
Deciding factors for MP attendance
Deciding factors for MP attendanceThe significance thresholds are equal to 1% (***), 5% (**) and 10% (*), respectively.
24Very similar results were observed when we tried to explain the number of committee sessions attended: attendance was significantly reduced for MPs who were mayors or held another regional office. Conversely, civil servants had a higher rate of attendance (almost six sessions more). Compared to other parliamentarians, MPs from the UMP and SRC groups had a higher rate of participation for the committees to which they belonged. Finally, these econometric estimates confirmed the diversity observed by committee membership. Compared to members of the social affairs committee, MPs in the foreign affairs, cultural affairs or law committees had higher rates of absenteeism. Members of the economic affairs committee however had the highest rate of attendance.
25As we emphasized in our introduction, attendance is only one, relatively coarse, measure of parliamentary activity, since it does not necessarily reflect the real influence wielded by an MP. Consequently, an MP who is frequently absent from committee sessions may nevertheless have a decisive influence on political decisions by more direct means, thanks to his or her contributions to political debate. Likewise, experienced MPs such as former ministers or party leaders may exert greater influence through their activities while spending less time in the Assembly. It is thus equally important to study the relative efficiency of MPs (for a given level of attendance) as well as the overall volume of the effort they put in.
Identifying efficient MPs
26Let us now move on to examine the specific activity of MPs in relation to their attendance levels. This is specifically a matter of determining which MPs are the top parliamentary performers. Here, performance is defined in the following manner: for a given attendance record, efficient MPs are those who participate the most in the work of their committees and the National Assembly. After describing the empirical method used, we shall present the results obtained both for committee activity and Assembly participation.
The Free Disposal Hull model
27Our measurement of MP efficiency is based on the technique of non-parametric frontiers, which allowed us to determine relative efficiency for each decision-making unit, taking into account one or more inputs and one or more outputs.
Box 1. Non-parametric frontier techniques
Several techniques are utilized in frontier research. From our review of such studies, we have chosen to apply the Free Disposal Hull method, which measures efficiency through side-by-side comparisons of observation units.  In our context, this technique relied on two simple hypotheses:
H1. An MP can always be as or less productive with the same allocation of resources.
H2. An MP can always engage in as many or fewer activities with the same allocation of resources. In other words, it is always possible to waste time and/or products, and it is always possible for an MP to engage in fewer activities while devoting as many resources to them, or to engage in the same amount of activities while devoting more resources to them.
28In order to illustrate this method, let us consider an MP’s activity within the context of his/her specific committee. Here, the resource required to undertake the activity was the number of sessions attended; activity was measured by the number of committee contributions made. Measuring efficiency consisted in asking the following question for each MP: was there at least one other MP who engaged in equal or greater activity, while having the same or a higher rate of attendance? If the response was negative, then the MP could be considered as efficient and s/he belonged to the efficient frontier. This idea is illustrated clearly in Figure 1.
29We thus observe that MP A, who participated in 60 meetings and contributed a total of 80 times, cannot be viewed as efficient. For the same attendance record, MP C had a higher rate of production. MP B was as productive as A, but with a lower rate of attendance. D also had a higher level of participation with a lower rate of attendance. On the other hand, Figure 1 also demonstrates that MPs E, F and G were less efficient than A: although they were present more often than A, they were conversely less active. Finally, it was not possible to rank the MPs situated in the south-west and north-east quadrants of the graph in relation to A. MPs located in the south-west quadrant had a lower level of activity than A but were also less present, while those in the north-east quadrant accomplished more but also had a higher attendance rate.
Side-by-side MP comparison
Side-by-side MP comparisonNote: each letter designates a different MP.
30Beyond simple affiliation or not with the efficiency frontier, the FDH method also allowed us to measure the degree of MP inefficiency through a performance indicator. This measurement is called a relative efficiency score. Let us recall that the relative nature of this measurement reflects here the efficiency of an MP compared to that of other MPs in the sample population. For this study, we chose to keep an “output orientation”, focusing on the maximum production of outputs based on a given quantity of inputs. In this case, this was the maximum number of interventions that the MP could accomplish during a given period of time. For example, as seen in Figure 2, we can observe that for a constant attendance rate and compared to MP C, MP A could increase his/her activity by 50% (going thus from 80 to 120 contributions).
Distance from frontier
Distance from frontier
Efficient committee MPs
31The FDH method was first applied to each committee’s specific activities. Each MP was characterized by a single input (the number of sessions attended) and a single output (the number of committee contributions). For each committee, we determined which were the efficient MPs (those belonging to the efficiency frontier) and calculated the associated efficiency scores. The different efficiency frontiers obtained are illustrated in Figure 3. For each committee, we identified MPs fulfilling a specific committee role (president, vice-president or secretary). The list of efficient MPs by name and committee is presented in Table 4.
Efficient MPs by committee (in alphabetical order)
Efficient MPs by committee (in alphabetical order)Note: ? President ? Vice-president ? Secretary
32With the exception of the economic affairs committee, all committee presidents belong to the efficiency frontier. They are thus efficient in the sense that they engage in a maximum level of activity in relation to their attendance rate. Figure 3 suggests more generally that all MPs with a committee obligation are relatively more efficient than their counterparts. The average efficiency scores in relation to duties are presented in Figure 4. The average score for presidents was 0.936. Vice-presidents had an average score of 0.538, which means that they only accomplished 53.8% of the work they could produce, keeping the same attendance rate, if they were at the frontier. This average score was slightly lower for secretaries (47.1%) and it barely exceeded 33.4% for MPs without specific committee positions.
Efficiency of committee MPs
Efficiency of committee MPsLegend: ? President ? Vice-president ? Secretary o MP • Efficient MP.
Committee efficiency and responsibilities
Committee efficiency and responsibilities
33Several non-exclusive explanations are possible here. The first would argue that a selection effect is present. The MPs perceived as more efficient ex ante are more likely to be placed in positions of responsibility. Those who have acquired experience and who have demonstrated their abilities in previous positions (whether this is through terms served or their outside professional life) are often chosen to guide committee activities. The second interpretation relies more on a notion of mutual reinforcement: MPs who have been conferred responsibilities will want to demonstrate that the confidence placed in them was justified and will consequently invest more time and effort in their parliamentary activities. Simply put, the proven efficiency of presidents in this study no doubt also reflects the effect of institutional constraints and resources: the duties and prerogatives associated with their role automatically engender an increase in activity levels for any given attendance rate.
Effective MPs in the Assembly
34The same method can also be applied to the overall activity of MPs within the National Assembly. Once again, a single input was used: the number of active weeks in parliament. In terms of outputs, all parliamentary activities were used, except the number of amendments adopted.  Activity was thus measured in terms of the number of spoken contributions (short or long), the number of amendments signed, the number of recommendations or reports drafted by the MP, the number of legislative propositions or written resolutions drafted by the MP, the number of propositions that the MP co-signed and the number of written and oral questions submitted by the MP. From an empirical perspective, a problem thus emerged. Having only one input and up to eight outputs, it was likely that a very large majority of parliamentarians would “artificially” appear to be efficient.  We thus turned to principal component analysis in order to summarize the eight activity variables examined into a limited number of outputs. This technique consists of transforming variables that are correlated with each other into independent, non-correlated variables: these are thus termed principal components or principal factors. Applied to this data, principal component analysis revealed that the majority (or 95.8%) of the information contained in the eight different activity variables could be summed up in the first two factors (the contribution of these factors amounting to 58.9% and 36.8%, respectively). Representing the two factors calculated in graphical form is illuminating. The coordinates of the variables in the diagram created by the two first principal components correspond to their correlation with each of these factors. Figure 5 likewise indicates a type of “specialization” in MP activity in the National Assembly. Those members drafting a large number of contributions, whether long or short, were less active in terms of other parliamentary activities. Moreover, we can also observe that the number of propositions and written questions were positively correlated. Likewise, MPs who were very active with regard to these two elements produced significantly fewer reports, amendments and oral questions.
MP activity variables by factor
MP activity variables by factorNote: A = amendments I = interventions P = propositions Q = questions
35Each parliamentarian was thus characterized by a pair of factors which summarized the whole of his/her activity. The FDH method was then applied directly, with an input (attendance) and two outputs (the scores obtained for both factors), allowing us to obtain efficiency scores for each MP.  Analyzing this data indicated that 28 out of 572 MPs could be considered efficient (their score was 1). The relative efficiency score was on average 0.579. The distribution of this score revealed marked variation among MPs with regard to their engagement in National Assembly activities: only 6.8% of them obtained a score equal to or greater than 0.9. Conversely, more than 60% of parliamentarians had an efficiency score lower than 0.6; they thus accomplished at most 60% of the activity that they could have completed if they had been efficient. Some 22% of MPs even had a score lower than 45%.
36These results triggered a two-fold investigation concerning the identification of efficient MPs and their characterization. The answer to the first question is presented in Table 5, which establishes a list of the 28 efficient MPs (in alphabetical order) in the National Assembly (for a given attendance rate, they achieved maximum productivity). We should keep in mind that Table 5 presents relative efficiency in relation to a given attendance rate: a very frequently absent MP whose parliamentary activity is quite limited may appear as “efficient” simply because the activity was measured in relation to a low attendance rate. This paradox, which is one of the theoretical limits of the method we have used, explains the presence of MPs with only one or two active weeks among the top ranks of efficient parliamentarians. In order to thoroughly address the characterization of efficient MPs, we should quantify the influence of criteria affecting parliamentary efficiency. To the extent that the dependent variable which we are trying to explain has a maximum value of 1 for 5% of our observations, we used a truncated regression model.  These results can be seen in Table 6.
Efficient MPs in the National Assembly (in alphabetical order)
Efficient MPs in the National Assembly (in alphabetical order)
Determining factors for efficiency in the National Assembly
Determining factors for efficiency in the National AssemblyNote: Truncated regression. The significance thresholds are equal to 1% (***), 5% (**) and 10% (*), respectively.
37The first column in Table 6 presents the estimators obtained for all parliamentary MPs. The econometric analysis reveals that neither professional occupation nor gender had a significant statistical impact on relative efficiency scores. This is an important observation, as it relativizes the importance of socialization and social status in explaining the behavior of individual parliamentarians.  The same cannot be said of the age variable, whose effect was not linear. At first, performance seemed to increase with age – perhaps reflecting MP experience – but beyond 58.4 years of age, efficiency scores started to decrease. It appears that for the youngest MPs, there is greater benefit to be had from engaging in more intense parliamentary activity. A high level of commitment is likely to influence an MP’s political career and may be seen by other parliamentarians as a valuable trait, come re-election time.
38At the tail end of an MP’s career, two elements can certainly play a detrimental role with regard to parliamentary efficiency, as the latter is defined by our empirical measurements. First of all, the experience accrued and multiple offices held are likely to offer some MPs levers of political influence that cannot be directly grasped by our empirical methods. A former minister, for example, does not usually have to repeat himself in the Assembly in order to be heard; nor does he need to employ formal written questions to obtain information from the administration. On the other hand, it is possible that some older MPs decide to no longer seek re-election and thus anticipate their retirement from political life – a choice that would likely have consequences on their parliamentary activity. Taking on a regional mandate seems to increase relative efficiency. Similar results were obtained for MPs who were also mayors, but this relationship was only statistically significant at a threshold of 10%.  This is most likely due to a selection effect. If holding other political offices tends to characterize MPs who have already acquired a certain level of recognition, legitimacy and expertise in political debate, then it is quite reasonable that they will express themselves on behalf of others more often (and they are quite likely to be solicited more frequently as well). Such members of parliament are also likely to be more accustomed to participating in public debate, which naturally makes them more efficient than their colleagues (for a given attendance rate).  Finally, it is possible that certain MPs, thanks to their local mandates, have recourse to additional resources – for example, in terms of personnel – that can be mobilized in the service of their parliamentary activities.  This could explain the positive impact of holding a mayor’s office on MP efficiency as well as the negative impact of holding a mere local councilor’s office.
39Table 6 also highlights the fact that MPs belonging to the Bureau of the National Assembly or to one of its committees were significantly less efficient than their colleagues in terms of global output. However, we should not then conclude that these MPs fulfilled their duties more poorly than their counterparts. This differential in efficiency is probably the result of the constraints and obligations associated with the positions in question, which naturally impact parliamentary activity and force MPs to prioritize their duties. In addition, these MPs no doubt have channels of influence and sources of information that allow them to bypass the tabling of legislative amendments or the submitting of questions in parliament. Here our observations coincide with Sébastien Lazardeux’s conclusion that the production of written questions is linked to an MP’s degree of access to government circles, rather than to his/her degree of electoral vulnerability. 
40The final result we obtained revealed an important difference in relative efficiency according to parliamentary group affiliation: the average score for SRC MPs was lower than for other parliamentarians. In columns 2 and 3 of Table 6, we established specific estimates for UMP and SRC members. MPs from the UMP group who were also civil servants had a slightly lower rate of efficiency (although this effect was not statistically significant), contrary to those who held a regional office. In the SRC group, MPs also holding a mayor’s office were relatively more efficient, as against those holding another local office. Although age did not play a significant role for majority MPs, the efficiency of socialist representatives initially increased and then declined after 57 years of age. These final results, globally in line with our observations on MPs as a whole, confirm the weight of institutional variables and strategic considerations with regard to the alleged effects of sociological determination.
41Recent investigations into MP attendance rates in the National Assembly as well as recurring debates on the consequences of holding multiple offices led us to examine the commitment of MPs to their parliamentary activities. Attendance alone evidently does not suffice to understand parliamentary activity. Regardless of the shape they take, MP contributions to parliament must be related to the time devoted to them in order to measure relative efficiency. From a normative point of view, it is first and foremost the total activity of MPs that interests their constituents. It may even seem paradoxical that a relatively inactive member appears to be “efficient”, since his/her activity correlates to time spent at the National Assembly. Nevertheless, the relative performance of MPs for a given attendance rate can be considered as decisive for their influence on the political decision-making process: it incontestably emphasizes the ability of MPs to represent their constituents and defend their party’s positions.
42Applying non-parametric frontier techniques of the FDH type to data measuring parliamentary activity for 2010 has shed a new light on the efficiency of French MPs. The main results are as follows. First of all, important gaps exist between the activity and attendance requirements of the different parliamentary committees. MPs with other official duties are more efficient than their committee colleagues, but less so if we take into account their parliamentary activity as a whole. Secondly, both in the context of committees and the National Assembly, attendance and relative efficiency are influenced by the holding of multiple offices: fulfilling the duties of a mayor or other regional office lowers MP attendance rates, while in some cases there is a positive correlation with relative efficiency. Finally, as we may have expected, performance reflects the power relations between the majority and minority parties. Minority MPs – in 2010, members of the socialist, radical and citizen (SRC) group – struggled to obtain a high efficiency score despite their high levels of activity, since it was politically difficult for them to have access to the most important legislative instruments, such as drafting reports. Contrary to political factors, neither professional occupation nor gender could be used as a predictor for the activity level or relative efficiency of MPs.
43From a methodological perspective, the FDH approach has the advantage of not imposing any a priori hypothesis with regard to the functional forms of the underlying equation ensuring the transformation of inputs (here, attendance) into outputs (the different activities). On the other hand, the results remain potentially susceptible to the presence of outliers. Consequently, at the committee level, the representation of frontiers (Figure 3) clearly shows the important participation of a small number of MPs who often (though not always) assume a committee leadership role through their duties. In all cases, the data clearly demonstrates a strong positive correlation between the attendance and participation of MPs.
44At the time of writing, when the new French President, François Hollande, has established a committee on the deontology and ethics of political life [commission de renovation et de déontologie de la vie publique], with the primary goal of producing legislation regarding multiple office holding,  it is useful to emphasize the ambiguous effect of multiple office holding on parliamentary work and efficiency. In reality, holding multiple offices does not perhaps have a systematically negative effect, as may have been previously believed. Mayors and regional councilors in particular have, all other things being equal, lower rates of attendance than local councilors or single office holders. However, the relative efficiency of MPs less clearly displays negative consequences from multiple office holding. It even seems that certain offices, such as mayor and regional councilor, may have a positive effect on efficiency levels: this likely reflects the fact that elected officials, having acquired a certain political weight through multiple office holding, are consequently able to exert more influence on the parliamentary process than their colleagues. For voters, therefore, there is a certain rationale in supporting multiple office holders, even if the combined effect at the National Assembly level may become less than optimal.
45To conclude, it should be noted that the public availability of data on parliamentary activity has paved the way for future research. For example, it would be fruitful to examine if MP activity is consistent over the long term – with on the one hand, parliamentarians who are highly committed to their work, and on the other, MPs who devote less time to their duties – or if the efforts of elected representatives fluctuate over time, depending on the activities for which they are responsible. Another question to ask, and one which concerns the interested parties directly, is whether MP commitment as demonstrated through attendance and active participation influences the electorate when it comes time for re-election.
Commission des lois constitutionnelles, de la législation et de l’administration générale de la République [Commission of Constitutional Law, Legislation and General Administration of the Republic], Wednesday 29 April 2009, 9am meeting, minutes of proceedings no. 42.
Renewed interest from citizens’ associations in evaluating parliamentary activity has been emphasized in La Revue parlementaire. Cf. Pierre Laffon, “Quantification de l’activité parlementaire”, La Revue parlementaire, 934, March 2011, 17.
“Parlorama.eu ne parlera plus”, Le Soir, 24 April 2009.
John D. Huber, Rationalizing Parliament. Legislative Institutions and Party Politics in France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).Online
“La révision constitutionnelle de juillet 2008”, Revue française de droit constitutionnel, 78(2), 2009, 227-316.
Comité de réflexion et de proposition sur la modernisation et le rééquilibrage des institutions (Comité Balladur – Review and Proposals Committee on the Modernization and Balancing of Institutions), “Une Cinquième République plus démocratique”, report submitted to the President of the Republic on 29 October 2007.
Olivier Costa, Tinette Schnatterer, Laure Squarcioni, Peut-on revaloriser le parlement français? Le regard des députés sur la révision constitutionnelle de 2008 et les réformes souhaitables (Paris: Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2012, 84-8).
Olivier Nay, “La vie à l’Assemblée, angle mort de la science politique française”, Revue suisse de science politique, 9(3), 2003, 83-96; and “Le travail politique à l’Assemblée. Note sur un champ de recherche trop longtemps déserté”, Sociologie du travail, 45(4), 2003, 537-54.
For an up-to-date overview: Olivier Rozenberg, Éric Kerrouche, “Retour au Parlement”, Revue française de science politique, 59(3), 2009, 397-400.
Olivier Costa, Éric Kerrouche, Paul Magnette (eds), Vers un renouveau du parlementarisme en Europe? (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2004).
Pierre Lascoumes, “Les compromis parlementaires, combinaisons de surpolitisation et de sous-politisation. L’adoption des lois de réforme du Code pénal et de création du PACS”, Revue française de science politique, 59(3), 2009, 455-78.
Sylvain Brouard, Éric Kerrouche, “A tale of resilience. Beyond the myth of committees’ weakness and parliamentary impotence”, paper presented during the final conference of the LEGIPAR project, Bordeaux, December 1-2, 2011.
David Arter (ed.), “Comparing the legislative performance of legislatures”, special issue of the Journal of Legislative Studies, 12(3-4), 2006.
Maurizio Cotta, Heinrich Best (eds), Parliamentary Representatives in Europe 1848-2000. Legislative Recruitment and Careers in Eleven European Countries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and Democratic Representation in Europe. Diversity, Change, and Convergence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
Hannah Fenichel Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 114.
Nicolas Sauger, “Party discipline and coalition management in the French parliament”, West European Politics, 32(2), 2009, 310-26.Online
Warren E. Miller, Donald E. Stokes, “Constituency influence in Congress”, American Political Science Review, 57(1), 1963, 45-56.Online
Magnus Blomgren, Olivier Rozenberg (eds), Parliamentary Roles in Modern Legislatures (London: Routledge, 2012).
Éric Kerrouche, “The French Assemblée nationale: the case of a weak legislature?”, Journal of Legislative Studies, 12(3-4), 2006, 336-65.Online
See, for example, Mariette Sineau, Vincent Tiberj, “Candidats et députés français en 2002”, Revue française de science politique, 57(2), 2007, 163-85; Sylvain Brouard et al., “Comparer les productions législatives: enjeux et méthodes”, Revue internationale de politique comparée, 16(3), 2009, 381-404; Abel François, “Who are the candidates and substitute candidates in the French parliamentary elections? Statistical note on the 2007 elections”, French Politics, 7(2), 2009, 206-15.Online
Roland Cayrol, Jean-Luc Parodi, Colette Ysmal, Le député français (Paris: Armand Colin, 1973); Olivier Rozenberg, “Présider par plaisir. L’examen des affaires européennes à l’Assemblée nationale et à la Chambre des Communes depuis Maastricht”, Revue française de science politique, 59(3), 2009, 401-27.
Olivier Costa, Éric Kerrouche, Qui sont les députés français? Enquête sur des élites inconnues (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2007).
Éric Kerrouche, “Usages et usagers de la permanence du député”, Revue française de science politique, 59(3), 2009, 429-54.
Olivier Costa, Le Parlement européen, assemblée délibérante (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2001).
<http://www.nosdeputes.fr/>. The data regarding parliamentary activity which is reported herein come from the National Assembly’s website and the Journal officiel’s website. This data is thus widely available to the public.
The regression uses both age and age-squared in order to take into account the possible non-linearity of age with regard to attendance.
Arnold Zellner, “An efficient method of estimating seemingly unrelated regressions and tests for aggregation bias”, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 57(298), 1962, 348-68.Online
On the contrary, an effect on attendance tending towards the positive is observed for those holding a local office other than mayor, but the effect is only significant at a 10% threshold.
Martin J. Farrell, “The measurement of productive efficiency”, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society), 120(3), 1957, 253-81; and Abraham Charnes, William Cooper, Edwardo Rhodes, “Measuring the efficiency of decision-making units”, European Journal of Operational Research, 2(6), 1978, 429-44.Online
Dominique Deprins, Léopold Simar, Henry Tulkens, “Measuring labor inefficiency in post offices”, in Maurice Marchand, Pierre Pestieau, Henry Tulkens (eds), The Performance of Public Enterprises. Concepts and Measurements (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1984), 243-67.
The reason for this is that such a selection would inherently favor the majority group, since this group is by definition more likely to see its amendments adopted in parliament.
In reality, for a given number of active weeks, MPs had every likelihood of being characterized by varying levels of activity for each output. And yet, by definition no a priori hypothesis was made on the “weight” carried by these outputs in terms of total activity. Comparisons between MPs are quite likely to result in their placement in indeterminate zones, as seen above in Figure 1.
To the extent that these factors can have positive or negative values for each MP, we adapted the reference axes so that the minimum value for each coordinate would be positive or zero. One simple way to do this is to subtract the minimum from the corresponding coordinate.
The standard deviations reported for these estimates are those obtained directly from truncated regression analysis.
This observation is in line with the conclusions reached by other studies on parliamentary practices based on, for example, analytical diagrams of parliamentary roles. Cf. Julien Navarro, Les députés européens et leur rôle. Sociologie des pratiques parlementaires (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2009).
On the contrary, holding a local office tends rather to reduce efficiency scores; however, this result was also only statistically significant at the 10% threshold.
However, inverse causality cannot be entirely dismissed. At the constituency level, voters may be tempted to vote in favor of an MP for other elected offices if they perceive the benefits of this.
Abel François, “Testing the ‘Baobab Tree’ hypothesis: The cumul des mandats as a way of obtaining more political resources and limiting electoral competition”, French Politics, 4(3), 2006, 269-91.Online
Sébastien Lazardeux, “Une question écrite, pour quoi faire? The causes of the production of written questions in the French Assemblée nationale”, French Politics, 3(3), 2005, 258-81.Online
The committee on deontology and ethics in political life, composed of fourteen members, is presided over by the former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (see Decree number 2012-875 from 16 July 2012 on the creation of a committee on deontology and ethics in political life).