January 14, 2019 / 3:52 AM / 4 months ago

With 2,300-word letter, Macron launches debate to quell 'yellow vest' unrest

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday kicked off a three-month national debate he hopes can quell the “yellow vest” unrest with a letter to the French in which he pledged to listen to new ideas but stuck to his core economic reform agenda.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a traditional epiphany cake ceremony at the Elysee palace in Paris, France, January 11, 2019. Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS

Macron’s initiative comes after nine weeks of protests by the “yellow vests” — named after the high-visibility jackets they wear. The disparate anti-government uprising has wreaked havoc in Paris and French cities, shaken the economy and challenged his authority.

“For me, there is no banned issue. We won’t agree on everything, which is normal in a democracy. But at least we’ll show we’re a people which is not afraid of talking, exchanging, debating,” Macron wrote in the letter published by his office.

But Macron said he would remain faithful to his campaign manifesto, and appeared to rule out rolling back some of the pro-business economic reforms, such as scrapping a wealth tax, which have earned him the nickname “president of the rich”.

“When taxes are too high, our economy is starved of the resources that could be usefully invested in companies, creating jobs and growth,” Macron wrote.

“We will not undo the measures we have introduced to put this right, encourage investment and ensure that work pays more.”

In the 2,330-word letter, to be published in French newspapers, he also asked a series of questions he hoped the French will answer in town hall meetings across the country or in online questionnaires.

Below are some of the questions Macron asked:

- Which taxes do you think we should cut?

- What kind of public spending savings do you think we should make a priority?

- Are there too many administrative layers?

- Should we use referendums more often and who should be able to trigger them?

Macron said proposals made during the debate will help build a new “contract for the nation” and influence government policy-making and France’s stance on European and international issues.

He said he would give his own conclusions within a month of the end of the debate on March 15, but did not mention a possible referendum on his policies, an idea floated privately by some in his administration.

“This is how I intend to turn anger into solutions,” he said.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Catherine Evans

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