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France

France awaits results of Macron’s Great Debate

media French President Emmanuel Macron winds down consultations of his Great National Debate on the island of Corsica, 4 April 2019. AFP/Ludovic Marin

France’s government was to begin evaluating two months of nationwide consultations on Monday before forging concrete measures in response to the discontent over living standards voiced by the Yellow Vest protests.

President Emmanuel Macron launched the “Great National Debate” in January in response to nationwide protests over his government’s attitude towards purchasing power, taxation and the cost of living.

Over two and a half months, the initiative gathered some 1.5 million proposals via 10,000 town hall meetings, 16,000 books where citizens wrote their grievances and an online platform.

“The debates, I believe, clearly show which direction to take: we have to lower taxes more and faster,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monday at an event in Paris organised to give the government’s first response to the consultation.

After the government consults with lawmakers concerning the results, Macron is expected to turn the feedback into policy changes with a major address planned for the middle of April.

The teams that worked on crunching the data from the debate stressed the difficulties of condensing the views of a highly polarised population.

“There are a few things that jump out, but the reality is that there are big disparities in opinion on most subjects,” one aide to the prime minister told AFP Agency.

Critics have pointed out that older people were overrepresented in the town hall meetings and that most Yellow Vest protesters boycotted the debate.

Macron seeks to channel anger and improve image

In addition to taxes, debates included questions on the environment, public services, democracy, health, pensions and the welfare state.

Macron has given little public indication of what those may be, but has stressed that demands for tax cuts would need to be accompanied by reductions in public spending.

Macron also ruled out reintroducing a tax for the wealthy, a key demand of Yellow Vest protesters, who saw the scrapping of the tax as a sign that Macron was the “President of the rich”.

The debate got off to a difficult start, when the main organiser stepped down due to an outcry over her salary.

But the tone around the debates improved and even Macron’s approval ratings have grown, with recent polls showing around 30 percent of voters with a positive view of the president.

Meanwhile, attendance at Yellow Vest protests has been declining in recent weeks.

“I intend to transform anger into solutions,” were the words with which Macron laid out the stakes of the debate in January, referring to weeks of roadblocks, demonstrations and occasional rioting on the Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris.

“Your proposals will help build a new contract for the nation,” Macron promised, looking both to channel anger from the streets into constructive debate and to improve his image by showing he was open to discussion.

(with wires)

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