On March 15 and 16, as well as March 22 and 23, thirteen “regional citizens’ conferences” will be held following the Great National Debate. President Macron has launched a three-month national debate that he hopes will appease the Yellow Vest protesters.
It was supposed to allow citizens to approach their local mayor about their grievances. Macron claimed that the proposals made during such meetings would help build a new “contract for the nation”.
Thus, organised over a day and a half, they will be taking place around participatory workshops. But the organisers are currently confronted with a serious problem: The obvious absence of participants.
The audience was supposed to be ethnically representative of the “sociological diversity” of each region. Some 75 000 French people were invited to share their expectations and their diagnosis on the four themes of the Great National Debate.
As BFMTV revealed on Wednesday, March 13, 9 out of 10 French participants have declined the invitation. In the offices of the body responsible for drawing the crowds, frantic phone calls are multiplied until the last minute to convince the most reluctant.
In the hope of attracting as many people as possible, the opinion institute responsible explained that a hotel room will be be reserved and paid for participants who have to travel some distance to take part.
Finally, for those working on Fridays, a letter from the Great Debate mission will be sent to employers to request leave for their employees. But in several regions like Normandy, the target audience has been revised sharply downward.
In January, a survey published by French daily Le Figaro showed that 70 percent of French people think the discussions will serve no purpose.
Macron’s idea of thousands of local meetings is similar to the ill-fated consultation exercise by King Louis XVI in 1789. The king wanted to quell a popular uprising, but instead he kickstarted the French revolution. Four years later he had to face the guillotine.
On the evening of Tuesday, meanwhile, the French Parliament finally adopted the proposed anti-riot bill, also in the context of the ongoing protests by Yellow Vests.
As was expected, after a final vote in the Senate, this bill, which limits the right to demonstrate publicly, was adopted by 210 votes to 115 and 18 abstentions. It is now up to the Constitutional Council to look into this law.
According to RTL, the Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner explained to the Senators that this bill was the way forward.
Rights activist Jacques Toubon noted: “We will see what the Council will say but it is clear that this provision on the prohibition to demonstrate may seem contradictory to our constitutional principles,” he told RTL. “This text presents a risk of arbitrariness. It would allow the prefect, or the government, to choose its protesters.”