Scepticism in France as Macron launches ‘national debate’

15 January, 2019 12:00 AM printer

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron faced a battle Monday to convince the sceptical French of his latest move to quell “yellow vest” anger as he kickstarted a two-month national debate on his policies, reports AFP.

Macron, who is struggling to end the biggest crisis of his presidency, on Sunday set out 35 questions to be debated in towns and villages across the country between January 15 and March 15.

“We won’t agree on everything, that’s normal, that’s democracy. But at least we’ll show we’re a people that is not afraid to talk, exchange and debate,” he wrote in his “letter to the French”.

The missive followed a ninth consecutive Saturday of nationwide “yellow vest” rallies which saw an uptick in turnout but less violence than previous demonstrations over the past two months. 

Macron hopes that returning to more participative democracy—a key feature of his 2017 grassroots election campaign—will satisfy the protesters’ demands for a greater say in the running of the country.

“I intend to transform anger into solutions,” he wrote, promising “a new contract for the nation”.

But he made clear there was no question of him resigning, saying the debates, which will revolve around taxation, democracy, the environment and immigration, were “neither an election nor a referendum”.

Within the ranks of the “yellow vests”, reactions were mixed, with some welcoming Macron’s letter but many calling it a government smoke-screen.

“A debate means discussing everything. When you say we’re going to debate, but not about that, that, that and that...that’s called ‘shut up and listen to me’,” Maxime Nicolle, one of the movement’s most prominent figures, said in a YouTube video.

In its editorial Monday, the left-wing Liberation daily called the missive an attempt by Macron “to save the three years he has left” as president.

“The exercise is all the more perilous given the mood in the country, which is extremely grumpy,” the paper added.

In an Odoxa-Dentsu poll published last week, 32 percent of respondents said they would take part in the debate but 70 percent said they did not believe it would lead to significant change.

The questions that will be debated include: “Which taxes do you think should be lowered first?”, “Should some public services that are out of date or too expensive be eliminated?”, “What concrete proposals do you think would accelerate our environmental transition?” and “Should we use more referendums?”

A question about immigration asked: “Once our asylum obligations are fulfilled, do you want parliament to be able to set annual targets?”