Embattled on many fronts, French President Emmanuel Macron has a suggestion for his compatriots: Let’s talk. So he’s kicking off the “The Great National Debate.”
It’s an ambitious, two-month experiment in participatory democracy in which the French can air their deep frustrations over policy and propose solutions in town hall debates, online, or in entries in local “grievance books.” Today, in a lengthy open letter, Mr. Macron encouraged comment on four topics: taxes, green energy, citizenship, and state bureaucracy. He also said the discussion will allow the building of a new “contract for the nation” and “transform anger into solutions.”
That anger has been most visible in sustained and sometimes violent public protests that grew out of a now-withdrawn fuel tax. Macron’s initiative has plenty of critics, who argue its scope is unclear and note the red lines around certain topics. One headline read: “Macron hopes debate can quell French unrest. So did Louis XVI.” A poll last week indicated 41 percent of citizens would participate, while 40 percent would not. But at the very least, Macron is making a high-stakes offer to listen. And, notes Bernard Sanannes, head of the Elabe firm that conducted the poll, “one of the main lessons from the Yellow Vests [protesters] is that there’s a demand of the French public to have their opinions heard.”
Now to our five stories, on democracy in bumpy action, the changing expectations of young adults, and progress against suicide.