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    The Great National Debate in France: 'Yellow Vests' Offer an Alternative

    © AFP 2018 / JOEL SAGET
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    In France, the two-month “grand national debate” came to an end on Friday. The initiative, announced by President Macron, called for discussion throughout the country on the most important issues for citizens: from taxes to the environment. The debate was a response to the 'yellow vests' protests that have gripped the country for months.

    The 'yellow vests', though, don't seem to be content with how the 'debate' was conducted. According to them, the main problem of the 'debate' was the lack of proper discussion — the participants only had time for three-minute statements. Celine Crespin, a member of the 'yellow vests' and a senior technician in the Social Security Fund, began an alternative collection of people's proposals, which she discussed with Sputnik.

    Sputnik: How was the "national debate" conducted in your city?

    Celine Crespin: In Vendôme, four dates were set to discuss each of the given topics [environment, tax, the structure of the state, and democracy and citizenship]. The first meeting was attended by 'yellow vests' members and other citizens. We were told that we have three minutes to outline our demands. The problem was that we could not discuss anything among ourselves. Some simply read their short lists out loud. Sometimes they had very interesting topics. People wanted to respond, and most importantly — to interact. In short, argue! We wanted to formulate our demands in such a way that it would suit everyone. But the presenter stopped any attempt at discussion and passed the microphone to the next participant. The meeting went like this. 'National debates' without a debate… what is it?

    READ MORE: Has Macron’s Great Debate Achieved What it Set Out to Achieve at the Beginning?

    Sputnik France: So you decided to organise an alternative collection of proposals?

    Celine Crespin: At the end of the meeting, the organisers gathered and selected complaints that had to be filed with the prefect or the government. Then they announced their picks. Surprisingly, the wording of some demands did not match the original content. I had to redo a lot. The yellow vests and most of the other participants were disappointed. It became clear that the real debate was taking place outside the hall, in parking lots! It was there that people really discussed the problems. And so we decided to organize our own "national debates".

    Sputnik France: How did you organise everything?

    Celine Crespin: Our administrators created an email address and a book of complaints at our so-called headquarters. Everyone, whether a yellow vest [member] or anyone else, could submit a proposal and discuss it. Within a few weeks, we'd collected 275 complaints. I don't like this word, but the government uses it with regard to the "national debate". We did the same.

    READ MORE: Macron Expresses 'Rather Favourable' Approach to Tax Cuts After National Debate

    Sputnik France: What did you do with these proposals?

    Celine Crespin: Many members of our team, and among us there are unemployed people, former engineers, administrative workers, farmers, officials, teachers, housewives, retirees, and even the homeless, studied them for four weeks in several working groups. After analysing the complaints, they systematised them by topic and summed them up. It turned out that most of the demands were related to the work of institutions, then came economic demands and those related to purchasing power. Environmental protection came last. After the analysis, which was supposed to be objective, impartial and without any distortions, we reported the result to a lawyer working in Blois, who supported our request. He made sure that the demands were applicable at the legal, administrative and public levels. We insisted on realisable proposals.

    Sputnik France: Which demands were the most popular?

    Celine Crespin: Without going into details that can be clarified online, these are demands for revising the benefits and salaries of politicians or for raising the minimum wage. Many proposals related to the revision of the tax system, restoring the tax on luxury goods, so that it mostly concerned holders of capital rather than family real estate. The issue of indexing pensions to depend on inflation was also raised. You can read all the suggestions regarding immigration, the media and foreign policy online.

    READ MORE: Yellow Vests Crisis: Banker on Why President Macron Should be Backed, Not Ousted

    Sputnik France: What will happen next to the proposals?

    Celine Crespin: At the last open meeting of the "national debate", we asked that they be handed over to the prefect. We also want to publish them in the media; we contacted journalists, but so far they have not got back to us yet. We wanted to show that within the 'yellow vests' movement, which is ridiculed by the government and some media outlets, there isn't just a "group of rascals who stand at intersections" We wanted to prove that we are responsible people and that we can do civil work.

    Sputnik France: What do you expect from the results of the "great national debate"?

    Celine Crespin: We understand perfectly well that we will not achieve anything. Government members are already preparing us for disappointment. We clearly set out our demands. Soon we will be able to compare our proposals with those of the government. We are not going to give in to anything, that's for sure.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    economic reforms, taxes, Yellow Vests Protests, Yellow Vests, Emmanuel Macron, France
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