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Macron's next move: How to turn Great Debate into reality

media Emmanuel Macron AFP

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and his team have spent Monday trying to come up with concrete measures to improve life in France, after reform plans outlined by President Emmanuel Macron last week. 

The president's proposals were based on complaints and suggestions that emerged from the Great National Debate – two months of talks organised as a listening exercise after the eruption of the Yellow Vest protests.

So what might change?

The finance ministry will have to find out how to make up a shortfall of 5 billion euros, after Macron announced cuts in income tax but no real reductions in public spending.

Extra money is likely to be found by ending some tax breaks for companies.

One clear message to emerge from the Yellow Vest protests and the Great Debate was the situation of many single-parent families.

Thousands of mothers working in low-paid jobs described their difficulties making ends meet and trying to raise children alone.

Macron has told his government to address their plight and hinted that absent parents who fail to pay maintenance towards their children’s upbringing could have money deducted by the courts.

Countless angry remarks were logged during the Great Debate berating a government of ‘technocrats’ with little idea how ordinary people live outside the capital and the country’s big cities.

In a bid to address that complaint, local authorities are likely to be given greater tax-raising powers and more responsibility for housing, transport and other areas.

Are Yellow Vests, debaters happy?

Political Scientist Luc Rouban, of Sciences Po university in Paris, has examined statistics concerning the Great Debate and notes that those who took part in the exercise were by and large not the same people as those involved in the Yellow Vest protest.

Debaters were, he says, better educated than the average citizen and much older, with very high participation from the over 50s and the retired.

Yellow Vests often had relatively low-paid jobs and little income security.

Many Yellow Vests dismissed the Great Debate from the beginning, maintaining it was a public relations ruse to portray Macron as a listener.

Rouban notes that the Yellow Vest movement is primarily a protest against representative democracy and a demand for more direct democracy. The Yellow Vests have already condemned Macron’s decision, announced on Thursday, not to have more to referendums except in a few cases.

They say they will continue their protests and are planning a huge turnout on International Workers' Day, 1 May, which is a holiday in France.

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