France’s ‘great national debate’: Taxes, public services, environment and democracy

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking at a press conference at the end of the European Council in Belgium on 14 December 2018.

The French president wants to hold a “great national debate” by mid-March in an attempt to find a way out of the ‘yellow vest’ crisis. The head of state has revealed the debate’s main topics in a letter addressed to the French people. EURACTIV France reports.

President Emmanuel Macron has written a letter to the French people to launch the “great national debate” that he intends to hold over the coming weeks.

At the outset, he said that France “of all nations, [is] one of the most fraternal and one of the most egalitarian. It’s also one of the freest because everyone is protected in their rights and their freedom of opinion, conscience, belief and philosophy.”

French ‘yellow vests’ caught up in social networks

As it enters its fourth week of protest, France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement continues to be active on Facebook. While the social network has allowed the movement to grow, Facebook is struggling to create a structure for the movement. EURACTIV France reports.

“Great disorder has won people’s minds”

“In France, but also in Europe and around the world, not only great concern but also a great disorder has won people’s minds. We have to respond to this with clear ideas,” the French president stated. He then indicated that he would accept “no form of violence,” whether against elected representatives, the media, journalists, state institutions or public servants.

Among the subjects to be discussed are taxation, the organisation of the state and public bodies, and how both of these topics are structured.

The third topic to be addressed is the ecological transition.

“I committed to objectives of preserving biodiversity and fighting against global warming and air pollution. Today, no one disputes the urgent need to act quickly,” the French President wrote. “The longer we delay questioning ourselves, the more painful these transformations will be,” he continued.

The final topic will be that of democracy and representation.

“This system of representation is the foundation of our Republic, but it has to be improved because many do not feel represented following the elections,” Macron said.

This is the very problem highlighted by the ‘yellow vest’ movement, which notably contests every authority’s basis for national representation. Many French MPs have received threatening and insulting letters, unlike MEPs, who are not among the movement’s targets.

Italian minister Di Maio shows support for French ‘yellow vests’

Luigi Di Maio, the Italian deputy prime minister and leader of the 5-Star Movement (M5S), likened the French ‘yellow vests’ to his own political movement. Moreover, he openly criticised the French government. EURACTIV France reports.

Imposed subjects

“This debate is an unprecedented initiative, from which I am firmly determined to draw all conclusions. It’s neither an election nor a referendum. Personally expressing your story, your opinion and your priorities is what is required here, regardless of age or social condition,” the French president concluded.

This attempt to consult the population has already got off to a troubled start as the chaiperson of the national committee for public debate has been called into question due to her high salary.

Known for her outspokenness and her independence of mind, Chantal Jouanno would have advocated a more liberal approach for holding the national debate than the Élysée, leaving French citizens greater room for manoeuvre in raising topics. The Élysée preferred to impose its own topics, unlike the approach taken during the citizen consultations held last year.

Citizens’ consultations: France dreaming of ecological Europe

The European Council between 13-14 December will focus on the findings of the citizens’ consultations. French people dream of having a more ecological and more socially just Europe, where there is greater citizen participation. Can the EU meet their expectations? EURACTIV France reports.

Nevertheless, it must be noticed that the issue of migration is hardly referred to in the letter, contrary to what had previously been mentioned. French people are primarily concerned by environmental and economic issues, according to opinion polls.

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