Emmanuel Macron has suggested discussing the introduction of immigration quotas in nationwide debates that begin on Tuesday in an attempt to end weekly anti-government protests by France’s “yellow vest” movement.
The centrist president will launch the first debate in Grand Bourgtheroulde, a small Normandy community emblematic of the “forgotten France” of the grassroots protest movement.
The two months of debates across the country are intended to air the grievances of the “yellow vests” and identify remedies to defuse widespread public anger over living standards behind nine consecutive weekends of protests and clashes with police in French cities.
Cutting immigration has not been a central demand of the populist revolt but about 40 per cent of “yellow vests” are estimated to support Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party, the far-Right National Rally.
Click Here: gold coast suns 2019 guernsey
The 41-year-old president’s controversial move to consider quotas for non-EU immigration is seen as an effort to reach out to far Right voters.
Nicolas Bay, a National Rally MEP, rejected the idea, saying: “Why raise the question of quotas when many people want no immigration at all?”
The idea has horrified some of Mr Macron’s own supporters. Aurélien Taché, an MP from the president’s party, La République En Marche, said: “It is astonishing that this issue is being brought up when the president has not discussed it with his party and when it has not come from the yellow-vest movement.”
In a five-page open letter to the public outlining the framework of the “great national debate", Mr Macron stressed France’s tradition of welcoming refugees fleeing wars or persecution. He said the nation was also open to economic migrants seeking a better life but “this tradition is today being shaken by tensions and doubts over immigration and the failings of our system of integration”.
Policy proposals made by ordinary people during the debates are to be passed on to the government by officials tasked with monitoring the sessions, to end on March 15. Any French citizen may apply to hold and chair a debate.
Many “yellow vests”, who have no central leadership or organisation, say they will boycott the debates because they do not want to be manipulated by the government. If the initiative fails, Mr Macron will have difficulty putting his reforms back on track, analysts say.
The president said no topics are banned from the debates but he made it clear that he would not re-introduce wealth tax, a key demand of the “yellow vests” which is backed by up to 80 per cent of French people, polls suggest.
Mr Macron said he was willing to discuss another chief demand, for referendums on major policy decisions, but their scope would be limited.
In a comment echoed by many protesters, Jérémy Clément, a “yellow vest”, said the president’s letter “only addresses part of the problem” and does not do enough "to deal with the problems of pensioners and others on low incomes".
The “yellow-vest" movement began as a rebellion against fuel taxes but has turned into a broader uprising against Mr Macron, criticised as an out-of-touch technocrat who disregards the poor and favours the rich.