Macron buoyed by Great Debate launch

Macron at Great National Debate launch, 15 January 2019
Macron at Great National Debate launch, 15 January 2019 REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool

The French government and President Emmanuel Macron's advisors are daring to hope that Tuesday's successful launch of the Great National Debate could prove a turning point after months of bad news and sometimes violent Yellow Vest protests.


Macron supporters have a spring in their step after their man's marathon performance on Tuesday when he heard and answered questions for nearly seven hours non-stop, at a televised meeting in Normandy at the official launch of the Great National Debate.

The launch event wasn't a debate itself but instead a question and answer session with 600 mayors from the region, of different political stripes.

Many were sceptical about the exercise at first but Macron won them over and was given a standing ovation and praised for his endurance and grasp of local issues.

The Yellow Vest protests emerged from the villages and small towns and suburbs of France and so Tuesday's launch event was an important moment.

Macron's failure to notice the mounting anger which sparked the movement in rural and semi-rural France was cited by commentators as evidence that he was out of touch with life outside Paris.

It is vital for Macron to change that perception, which has gained traction, so a launch in rural Normandy was an important symbol.

Exhausted by months of criticism of the president and his programme Macron's LaRem MPs are delighted and newly energised. "There is no other politician who could do that," gushed Speaker of Parliament Richard Ferrand after the seven-hour performance.

But this was just a launch, which will be quickly forgotten.

The debates themselves are slowly getting underway and will take place across the country over the next 2 months. Will they make any difference? Will the Yellow Vests end their protests and join in?

Some Yellow Vest protestors on social media have dismissed the Great National Debate as a sham, predicting that Macron's government will pay no heed to the opinions and ideas which emerge from the massive consultation.

They have called on their protestors to turn out across the country again on Saturday.

Macron and his government will be hoping that ordinary people get involved in the debates and lose patience with those who choose not to take part but to protest.

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