Emmanuel Macron’s ‘great yellow vest debate’ falters before start as woman due to run it steps down over pay

Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a “great debate” to assuage the yellow vest revolt has got off to a bad start after the ex-minister tasked with running stepped down because of the size of her salary.

After two months of "gilets jaunes" protests, the French government is due to kick off three months of debates at local level starting on Tuesday 15 January in order to channel anger at the lack of participative democracy into new policy.

Mr Macron had hoped that Chantal Jouanno, 49, a former sports and ecology minister in the Sarkozy administration, would preside and pilot the commission and convince the disenchanted French their ire was being taken seriously.

But on Tuesday night, she hastily announced “I have decided to step down from running this debate” after press revelations that she was being paid almost €15,000 (£13,500) a month to do so. 

Among their multiple demands, many “gilets jaunes” complain that they are unable to make ends meet with precarious, low-paid jobs. The government has responded with €10 billion in sweeteners, from cutting fuel ties to a modest hike in the minimum wage but protests – some violent -have continued, albeit with dwindling figures.

Ms Jouanno, a former karate champion, said: “The conditions of necessary serenity for this debate” can no longer be met.

News of the amount she was due to be paid, which is roughly on a par with the President’s salary, sparked angry reaction from yellow vests and opposition figures.

“Who is the nutter who in (Mr Macron’s) En Marche party who accepted a contract giving her a salary this high?,” asked far-Right MP Sébastien Chenu, calling the amount “indecent”.

Gérard Filoche, former MP of the Socialist Party’s leftist fringe, said: “I’ve been running debates, articles, meetings, videos voluntarily for decades. I didn’t believe such things possible.”

Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, said he “regretted” Ms Jouanno’s decision to withdraw less than a week before the debate kicked off, but said it was a “side issue” and the process would start as planned next week as his government scrambled to find a replacement.

Some gilets jaunes have already dismissed the debates, which will take place at local level in town halls and via internet, as they will be limited to four main themes – green transition, citizenship, tax and state organisation. Mr Macron’s reforms will not be fundamentally cast into question and calls to scrap gay marriage or reinstate the death penalty will not be considered.

However, Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, said that one key demand for popular citizens’ consultations – mass petitions leading to referendums on issues from laws to constitutional reform – was a possibility, as long as these did not call into question societal reforms.

“I believe that having a five-year term when everything is decided from the moment the president and his majority are elected and then five years in which we apply the programme without giving citizens a say can no longer work,” he told France Culture.

He also mulled scrapping a proposal to do away with housing tax for 20 per cent of France’s wealthiest individuals.

But Jean-Paul Ryckelynck, mayor of Haveluy, in northern France, said: “My fellow citizens are pessimistic.”

“They’re saying it serves no purpose and is hot air,” he told AFP. “They’re very mistrustful concerning politicians.”

The Elysée said Mr Macron himself may take part in one next week.

Despite facing increasingly violent protests, the embattled president has something to smile: his popularity rose five per cent in the latest poll after the Christmas break. While only 28 per cent approve of his actions, that is his highest score since before the protests started in November.

Meanwhile, support for the yellow vests has fallen to 60 per cent, a ten per cent drop since before Christmas.

Leave a Reply