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'Big debate' off to rocky start as organiser resigns

President Macron’s ‘big national debate’ on the future of France is off to a rocky start after the person supposed to be running it stood down due to controversy over her salary.

In response to the gilets jaunes protests, the Grand Débat National is set to run between January 15 and March 15, collecting people’s views on directions France should take, to be passed on to the government.

However the woman who was supposed to organise the exercise has thrown in the towel after criticisms of her salary of €14,666 gross per month, deemed excessive in the context of the gilets jaunes protests, which have attacked inequalities in France.

The pay is not, however, specifically for running the Grand Débat process but is her salary as head of the Commission nationale du débat public (CNDP), an independent authority that checks on respect for the public’s right to be informed and consulted over major public spending projects.

The government has noted ex-minister Chantal Jouanno’s decision to withdraw and now says that rather than using the CNDP it will look for an alternative way of organising the debate “with similar guarantees of independence and neutrality”.

President Macron is set to launch the debate process next Tuesday during a visit to Bourgtheroulde in the Eure at the start of a tour of France talking to local mayors. After spending Tuesday in Eure he will go to the Lot on Friday next week.

Anyone (whether individuals or assocations or firms etc) can offer to organise a discussion in their area, whether at the level of a local quartier, a village or even region. National organisers will help by offering kits of material. Other events will also be organised at national and regional level as well as discussions online on a dedicated site.

Finally there will be ‘conferences of citizens’ drawn by lots in each region, to consider the ideas that have come out of the different debates.

The government proposes that discussions should focus on one of four themes: ecology, tax and public spending, democracy and citizenship, and the organisation of the state and public services.

President Macron is set to explain further in a ‘letter to the French people’ to be published next week before he sets out on his tour of mairies.

It is as yet unclear exactly what the government will do with the ideas gathered, however President Macron has said the aim is not about doing away with reforms that are already underway, such as the change of the ISF wealth tax to be focused on property wealth.

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