Ségolène Royal, March 10, 2018 in New Delhi. - LUDOVIC MARIN-POOL / SIPA

  • Ségolène Royal published Tuesday on Facebook a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs telling her the end of her duties as Ambassador of the poles.
  • The Quai d'Orsay justifies this decision by explaining that Ségolène Royal has broken its "duty of reserve" via its "recent public speaking".
  • "The obligation to reserve is part of a more general obligation which is loyalty to the administration and the State", explains Maître Cécile Janura, lawyer specializing in public law in Paris.

This is the reason given by the government for (almost) dismissing Ségolène Royal. The pole ambassador, appointed in 2017, is said to have failed in her "duty of reserve", to which the five million civil servants in France are subject. Where does this notion come from? What is prohibited when you are a civil servant? Explanations with Fabrice Melleray, university professor working at Sciences-Po, member of the Club des Juristes and master Cécile Janura, lawyer specializing in public law in Paris.

What is "duty of reserve"?

“The obligation to reserve is part of a more general obligation which is loyalty to the administration and the State. A public official does not work against the nation, against unity or against respect for democratic institutions, ”explains Cécile Janura. “An official's freedom of expression is not total: we cannot prevent him from expressing himself, but what he says must be measured, said tactfully; he must be aware of the consequences of his words, ”she explains. Strangely, this notion is not written in any law. "It is up to the judge to decide, on a case by case basis," said Fabrice Melleray.

An obligation that applies to all agents, from the nurse to the police through to senior state officials. With a difference, for Fabrice Melleray: "The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more you are subject to this duty. As for Ségolène Royal. When she speaks, she has a wider audience than the others. ” This obligation continues to apply to agents suspended from duty and on availability.

And this sometimes even goes beyond their careers: "Certain civil servants who are dismissed or retired are still subject to this ethical obligation, sometimes several years after leaving their functions," explains Cécile Janura. "And even if you resign and find a job in the private sector, you have in certain cases the obligation to inform your public employer so that he ensures that there is no breach of professional secrecy", adds -t it.

Are all public servants really in the same boat?

No. The duty of reserve varies depending on the trade. Some civil servants have more stringent obligations, such as the judiciary or the military. "University professors, of which I am a member, benefit from special conditions and can express themselves more freely", analyzes Fabrice Melleray. Ditto for trade unionists, who have protected status.

What are the penalties provided for by law?

From reprimand (frequent) to dismissal (more rare), the sanction varies according to several criteria: the nature of the comments made, the opinion expressed by the official, the place of the official in the hierarchy, the importance of these functions or the context in which the remarks were made.

When did this assignment date in history?

The first mention of the "duty of reserve" officials in a court decision dates from 1935. An official working in Grenoble was pinned for breach of this duty, after having participated in an electoral campaign in Tunisia. "It is no coincidence that this is happening at a time when political tensions are high," says Fabrice Melleray. “We then wondered how to allow civil servants to express themselves in public while respecting the requirements linked to a function of state service because at the time, in certain bodies, it even required permits to to marry. The officials were therefore unable to speak. "And then gradually, it opened up," he explains. And civil servants were entitled to the "duty of reserve", a controlled freedom of expression.

Has the Internet changed anything about "duty of care"?

"Inevitably it changed practices because the Internet is a sounding board for everything," says Fabrice Melleray. "There is a greater risk of failing to comply with your obligation," adds Cécile Janura, who sees more and more exposure to this case: "Some officials think they are speaking privately but once this page is shared, we can trace the origin of the publication and this may affect the duty of care. "

Public servants have other obligations. What are they ?

When you are a civil servant, the reserve is part of a range of duties to be observed. "According to the legal texts, civil servants must respect a duty of dignity, impartiality, integrity, probity and neutrality", details Cécile Janura. These obligations include in particular the laws on the respect of secularism in the administrations, which includes the prohibition to wear a religious sign, or even professional discretion: “You must not reveal things that you learned during your service. For example, if I am a tax officer and I speak about a file, it is punishable ”, concludes the professor.


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