Emmanuel Macron is considering a referendum to appease Yellow Vest activists who have been protesting across France against the president’s progressive reforms for 12 straight weekends.
The prospect comes in response to calls from populist Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protesters to enshrine plebiscites into French law to guarantee citizens greater say in national policy in what would be a major overhaul of French democracy.
A source speaking to French weekly the Journal du Dimanche (Sunday’s Newspaper) said that “election materials” have been pre-ordered with another saying “the chances of a May 26 referendum happening are very high.”
It would be the first national referendum in 14 years, the last being in 2005 when the French voted against the EU constitution — Brussels renaming it the ‘Lisbon Treaty’ which was promptly pushed through without further national referendums.
The Journal du Dimanche said that some of options that could appear on the ballot include whether the government should strike a deal with unions and the Yellow Vests, a government reshuffle, or dissolving the lower house of parliament.
A source close to President Macron said, “The Yellow Vest crisis almost killed us. A referendum is a very strong moment for citizens and would restart the machinery and allow us to politically get back [to where we were] to continue our reforms.”
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However right-wing Republicans leader and Yellow Vest supporter Laurent Wauquiez warned that Macron may only present ‘reducing the number of MPs’ and ‘term limits for MPs’ on the ballot — both Macron campaign pledges that predate the populist movement.
“Be careful that this great debate does not give birth to a mouse,” he warned, and “that the outcome of this great debate is not” limited to “subjects very cut off from the concerns of French people.”
Leader of the populist-right National Rally (formerly the Front National) Marine Le Pen said the proposed referendum — slated for the same day as the European Parliament elections — was a ploy to distract the French from voting in the Brussels poll in which right-wing populists are set to make major gains.
Saying that she always agreed in principle with referendums, Ms Le Pen told BFMTV “this has been packaged from the beginning.”
“Even before launching the big debate, he had already decided to propose a referendum on the day of the European Parliament elections to obviously divert interest away from the European election, where he knows that the positions he defends are quite a minority in the country.”
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Media reports that Macron’s party La République en Marche! (Republic on the Move) is set to join a regional, pro-EU alliance in the European Parliament, but only after of the May 26th elections.
Luis Garicano, lead candidate for Spain’s liberal Ciudadanos party, told the Financial Times, “The decision has been made, they declared for us, and now the questions all move around what form the collaboration takes.”
The union could be comprised of what the establishment FT describes as “disaffected socialist democrats and moderate conservatives,” including former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi who oversaw the illegal landings of hundreds of thousands of third-world migrants during the migrant crisis or members of the ‘centre-right’ European People’s Party (EPP) who object to fellow-member Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s rejection of progressive ideology and mass migration.
Though no name for the new grouping has been announced, Mr Garicano, a former professor at the London School of Economics, seemed conscious that to label themselves “liberal” would not work in the group’s favour, saying, “I think the word liberal is not a great word in France.”