France’s desperate Macron launches 3-month national debate to calm unrest
French President Emmanuel Macron has, in a lengthy letter to the nation, asked people to express their views on government policies as part of a “national debate” aimed at calming public anger and ending almost two months of “yellow vest” protests that have shaken the administration.
Macron put forward the initiative in a 2,330-word open letter to the nation to “turn anger into solutions.”
His office published the letter late on Sunday, nine weeks after the protests initially erupted in rural France over a planned hike in fuel prices. The French president later backed off and suspended the plan, but his policy shift failed to ease the anger.
The demonstrations then transformed into a broader rebuke of Macron’s policies, and they took on a name of their own, the “yellow vest” movement, which is a reference to the vests worn by people active in the transportation industry, who have been at the forefront of the protests.
During the debate, the French citizens would be asked to discuss issues such as cutting taxes and public spending, the use of referendums and immigration quotas in town hall meetings across the country or in online questionnaires
“For me, there is no banned issue,” said Macron in the letter. “We won’t agree on everything, which is normal in a democracy. But at least we’ll show we’re a people which is not afraid of talking, exchanging, debating.”
“When taxes are too high, our economy is starved of the resources that could be usefully invested in companies, creating jobs and growth,” he added.
Among the questions are “Which taxes do you think we should cut?” and “What kind of public spending savings do you think we should make a priority?”
The president would also give his own conclusions within a month of the end of the debate on March 15.
The president said that his government “will not undo the measures we have introduced to put this right, encourage investment and ensure that work pays more.”
Macron, who is described by his opponents as “president of the rich,” initially acknowledged the protesters’ anger was “deep, and in many ways legitimate,” promising a minimum wage rise and tax concessions.
The 41-year-old leader, however, hardened his stance on the movement earlier this month and dismissed “yellow vest” protesters as “agitators,” whose only aim is to topple his government.
France says the only aim of “yellow vest” protesters is to topple the government.
Le Pen riding on yellow wave of discontent
In the meantime, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen launched her party’s campaign for the May 2019 European Parliament election by seeking support from the anti-Macron “yellow vest” movement.
Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, formally known as the National Front, told an election rally on Sunday to make the EU vote a referendum on Macron’s policies.
“In the context of the healthy popular revolt of the yellow vests, this European election on May 26, 2019 (..) offers the opportunity to unravel the political crisis born out of blindness, intransigence, class contempt, economic despoliation, and the human disconnect of a president,” she said.
“If Macron does not have the wisdom to go back to the people by dissolving parliament, then let the political arbitrage come from European elections,” Le Pen said, while her supporters were chanting for Macron to resign.
Since she intended to remain in the French parliament, Le Pen is not running in the European elections. She, instead, presented 23-year-old Jordan Bardella as her party’s leading candidate for the upcoming vote.
Since the start of the unrest in France, Le Pen’s National Rally has gained in opinion polls. A mid-December 2018 Ifop poll gave her party 24 percent support against 18 percent for Macron’s LREM.