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French official tapped to lead Macron’s ‘national debate’ quits amid salary controversy

Bertrand Guay, AFP | Chantal Jouanno served as sports minister in the government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The official appointed by the French government to lead a national debate over the grievances raised by so-called “Yellow Vest” protesters quit on Tuesday following a controversy over her salary.

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Chantal Jouanno, a former sports minister, said she could not guarantee conditions for a calm debate as she had become a focus of attention after a news magazine revealed she was paid 14,700 euros ($16,800) per month to head France's National Commission for Public Debate.

The Commission is a consultative body on environmental issues.

Jouanno's sudden withdrawal marks an early setback for the national debate due to be launched next week, giving embattled President Emmanuel Macron little time to appoint a successor.

The debate, whose precise mechanisms remain unclear, is one of the key proposals he made last month in response to the wave of sometimes violent protests that has spread across the country since November.

It is expected to touch on a range of subjects including ecology, taxes, citizenship and democracy, and take place in town halls across the country as well as online.

Relief measures

Driving the recent unrest is anger, particularly among low-paid workers, over a squeeze on household incomes and a perception that Macron is indifferent to ordinary citizens' needs as he enacts reforms seen as pro-business and favouring the wealthy.

The Yellow Vest movement – named after the neon safety jackets that are mandatory in French vehiclesprompted Macron's government to announce financial relief measures in December, including a state-funded supplement to the minimum wage, but many protesters say the measures are not enough.

In reaction to Jouanno's withdrawal, the government will propose "a way of steering the ...debate that will preserve [its] guarantees of independence and neutrality," an official at the prime minister's office said.

Macron, whose popularity has plummeted in 2018, is expected to send a letter to French citizens on January 15 explaining the objectives of the forthcoming debate.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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