Le Grand Débat National – the big national debate – has got underway in France to gather ideas from the French people for the country’s future. It got off to a bad start when the person organising it, Chantal Jouanno, resigned after criticisms of her €14,666 gross monthly salary. (In 2015 the average gross monthly salary in the country was €2,988, which equates to around €2,250 net. However, median salary is 20% less than that figure at €1,797. Also note that this €2,988 is for employed persons: the self-employed earn a gross monthly average of €2,510 with very wide variations.)
This project of President Macron’s was almost certainly motivated by the demand of the gilets jaunes for an RIC – référendum d’initiative citoyenne. Such a referendum would mean allowing the people to vote directly on a proposal put before them. Reforms in 2008 now allow constitutional referendums to be held, provided that they get the pledged support of a fifth of all senators and a tenth of the general population. The RIC would allow people to come up with their own proposals, which could be voted on without needing the prerequisite of a certain amount of support in the government. Macron is hoping to avoid that situation, and also calm down France a bit, with his big debate idea.
The Grand Débat National consists of two months of meetings and discussions debates across the country to discuss four things in particular: the transition to a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, fiscal matters and taxation, democracy and citizenship, and finally public services. Presumably whoever organises each event will send in some kind of summary to the government.
From 21 January people can submit their ideas and reactions directly to a website. There will also be stands in various public places where people can call by to register their thoughts. Many mairies have a ‘cahier de doleance’ – book of complaints – that you can jot your thoughts down in. The dwindling public services in rural areas will surely get a few mentions.
From 1 March there will be debates in the country’s regions involving people who’ve been drawn at random from the electoral rolls.
What will happen after the GDN closes is yet to be seen. Will the President, who once told an unemployed man to ‘cross the street’ to find a job, actually listen to the people who can’t get work despite their best efforts, or have no public transport in their area, or who genuinely struggle to get by each month? You have to hope so.
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