Macron Tells French It's Time to Channel Anger Away From Streets

(Bloomberg) -- President Emmanuel Macron published a “Letter to the French,” the first step in a three-month national debate he hopes will dissipate the anger displayed in the recent violent protests, without derailing the reforms he insists France needs.

Macron laid out topics while signaling he isn’t open to all suggestions, saying he won’t reverse tax cuts enacted early on that he says are starting to bear fruit. The president will kick off events on Tuesday with a visit to a town west of Paris, where he’ll meet local mayors who will help run the debates.

Macron Tells French It's Time to Channel Anger Away From Streets

Macron unveiled the “Great National Debate” on Nov. 27 in response to the Yellow Vests movement, which began as a protest against gasoline taxes before morphing into broader unrest about the cost of living and the state of democracy in France, sometimes accompanied by violent demonstrations.

In the letter, Macron said he understood that many French are “unhappy or angry” because “taxes are too high for some, public services are far away, and salaries are too low for some to live with dignity.” But he denounced the violence that has accompanied nine weeks of protests.

Channeling Anger

The four themes on the table -- ecological transition, public finances, democracy and the organization of the state -- are meant to underpin new policy measures. In his letter, Macron told the French he wants to channel “your anger into solutions.”

Town halls already have put out “grievance notebooks” for citizens to submit complaints and suggestions, a practice dating back to before the French Revolution in 1789. The government also will publish a kit on organizing a debate, which in theory can be done by anyone.

While 34 percent of the French plan to take part in the debate, 70 percent said it won’t be useful, according to an Odoxa poll published Jan. 10.

In a rebuff to the protesters, Macron said high taxes stifle the economy and vowed “we will not go back on measures that we have taken to correct these effects and to encourage investments.” Many Yellow Vests have criticized Macron’s decisions at the start of his term in 2017 to limit a wealth tax and cut corporate income tax.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.