Macron's open letter on a 'grand debate' comes under fire from rivals, yellow vests

AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron pictured on January 11.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a three-month "grand debate" in an open letter to the French on Sunday, hoping to quell "yellow vest" unrest by promising to listen to new ideas but vowing to proceed with economic reforms.


Anti-government protesters and political rivals of President Emmanuel Macron criticized a sweeping "letter to the French" he issued after two months of weekly demonstrations, saying Monday his response was inadequate to quell anger over his economic policies.

The letter released Sunday explained how Macron wants to address the concerns roused by the yellow vest movement with a "grand debate" on taxes, public services, climate change and democracy.

The three-month initiative is supposed to take place at local meetings around the country and on the internet starting Tuesday. The French leader said no topics are prohibited and he listed more than 30 questions.

He suggested that citizens express their views on which taxes should be lowered and offer ideas for reducing the cost of transportation, heating and food.

Yellow vest representative Jeremy Clement told BFM television the president's letter "settles part of the problem" but doesn't go far enough to address the sinking purchasing power of French citizens.

One protester, Jerome Rodrigues, told CNews he thinks Macron failed to recognize "the urgency" of financial concerns among low-income workers and retirees.

Others criticized Macron for ruling out restoring a wealth tax on households with assets above 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million.)

Opposition leaders also criticized the letter.

The spokeswoman for the conservative Republicans party, Laurence Sailliet, said "this letter doesn't allow us to know if Macron will realize the mistakes he made and will actually change his policy."

The spokesman of far-right National Rally party, Sebastien Chenu, called it "hypocritical claptrap." Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon called the letter "a failure" that doesn't address the French's concerns.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, speaking on France Inter radio, said "the message of the yellow vests has been heard. We are making something constructive out of it."

An online poll by French institute YouGov this month showed 40 percent of respondents said they wanted to take part in the debate while 39 percent didn't want to and the remainder didn't know.

Skepticism about the debate's usefulness appeared on social media.

Paris resident Jerome Huntziger told the AP the public conversation "won't change anything."

"The feeling of the French is a fed-up feeling on a certain number of things, a feeling of not being listened to by the national representatives," he said.

The French Interior Ministry said about 84,000 people turned out on Saturday for the ninth straight round of demonstrations across France.

Thierry Paul Valette, founder of a group called "yellow vests citizens" told the AP the yellow vests would have "no break. The mobilizations continue."

The movement emerged in mid-November as a response to fuel tax increases, and is named for the fluorescent garments motorists are required to keep in vehicles.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning