French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to use nationwide debates, set to kick off on Tuesday, to tackle anger emanating from the Yellow Vests, but protesters and the opposition remain skeptical that he seeks genuine change.
By launching “grand national debates,” the president has promised to reach out to citizens and listen to everyone. “For me there is no banned issue,” Macron wrote in an open letter to the nation, published on Monday.
We won’t agree on everything, which is normal in a democracy. But at least, we will show that we are a people who are not afraid of talking, exchanging, debating.
The first round of the debates is set to kick off in the northern town of Grand Bourgtheroulde on Tuesday, with the president expected to attend. He is scheduled to hold a meeting with 600 mayors and local officials there.
Macron hopes that a frank nationwide discussion will lead to reconciliation with the Yellow Vest protesters whose massive rallies have been rocking Paris and other towns across France since November. Started as a grassroots movement against planned fuel tax hikes, the Yellow Vests evolved into broader voice to vent the anger towards the government. Their demands grew to include the resignation of President Macron.
The clashes with police and the chaotic atmosphere during the rallies have left at least 10 people dead and more than a thousand have been detained.
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In his letter, Macron offered to answer a variety of questions, such as which taxes should be lowered and whether France should have more referendums.
Some of the issues put up for debate were ostensibly not connected with the recent protests, like the question over whether the government should set annual immigration targets.
The protests have already prompted Macron to offer concessions. He promised a minimum wage rise and to roll back the planned fuel tax hike. While pledging more dialogue on Monday, the president emphasized that he will not allow a complete redo of his pro-business reforms and won’t return the scrapped wealth tax.