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French Grand Débat gathers 2 million ideas...

... but gilets jaunes run own version

The results of the nationwide Grand Débat National on the future of France are to be published this month.

The debate was one of the government’s responses to the gilets jaunes protests.

President Macron is expected to outline new initiatives, including potential citizens’ referendums [RICs] as a result in mid-April.

There were nearly 2 million contributions to the debate.

People took part in around 10,500 meetings while others opted for online polls or registered ideas in dedicated books at mairies. The exercise ran from January 15 to March 18 and was open to all residents.

Ideas were sought under four topics: Ecology; tax and public spending; democracy and citizenship and the organisation of the state and public services.

The president has hinted he could hold a referendum on May 26, the day of the European elections, with questions related to the political system including limiting the number of terms for MPs.

Eight out of 10 people say the Grand Débat was a good idea and should be repeated, though 68% were unsure it would lead to useful measures, a Le Figaro and FranceInfo poll showed in mid-March. The main preoccupations were spending power, reducing VAT on some items and the minimum wage – all far higher on the list than immigration and the environment.

The gilets jaunes shunned the debate opting to run their own alongside, named Le Vrai Débat [The Real Debate]. It attracted 25,000 different propositions and one million votes for or against the ideas.

State CNRS researchers are analysing its results but Marianne magazine revealed the 20 gilet jaunes’ suggestions which got the most votes. The most popular was ending all pay and privileges for politicians once their term of office ends (35% of votes).

The national statistics body Insee has said that the gilets jaunes protests had not had the negative economic impact politicians had suggested.

It said GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 was 0.1% lower than expected but that directly linking the protests to that, as the government has done, is speculative.

The Grand Débat has not  slowed down the protests despite turn-out numbers falling since November 17.

Violence has accompanied some protests including the destruction of more than 100 shopfronts around the Champs-Elysées in Paris on March 16. The government admitted there had been a failure in policing the event, and replaced the police chief.

New measures included a ban on protests in neighbourhoods most affected by the violence. There was also a ban at Nice on March 23 when the president visited to meet Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

For the first time soldiers were employed on March 23 to help avoid more violence.

The demonstrations then  were much calmer in Paris but incidents were reported in Montpelier, Nice and Nantes.

Eleven people, including five gilets jaunes, have died in protest-related accidents. Two suffered heart-attacks.

The government had been criticised for its use of defence ball launchers (LBDs), tear gas and water cannon. Up to 100 people claim to have been seriously injured as a result.

The United Nations has included France in an inquiry into excess violence towards protesters alongside Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti.

It is not clear to what extent casseurs and black bloc anarchist groups are present.

On March 16 some gilets jaunes left violent outbreaks to join tens of thousands on the March for the Environment, in another part of Paris, where there was no vandalism or violence.

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