PARIS/FLAGY, France (Reuters) – In 1789, Louis XVI summoned France’s aristocracy, clergy and citizens to discuss ways to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society.
It marked the start of the French Revolution. Within months he was powerless and four years later beheaded by guillotine.
Two centuries on, President Emmanuel Macron, often criticized for a monarchical manner, is also calling a national debate to mollify “yellow vest” protesters whose nine week uprising has set Paris ablaze and shaken his administration.
He will launch the three-month “grand debat” initiative on Jan. 15. As during the rule of the ill-fated king, the French are already writing complaints in “grievance books” opened up by mayors of 5,000 communes.
The debate will focus on four themes — taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. Discussions will be held on the internet and in town halls. But officials have already said changing the course of Macron’s reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy will be off limits.
“The debates are not an opportunity for people to offload all their frustrations, nor are we questioning what we’ve done in the past 18 months,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM TV. “We’re not replaying the election.”
By limiting the terms, Macron risks making the same mistake that doomed the monarchy, historian Stephane Sirot of University of Cergy-Pontoise told Le Parisien newspaper.
“Emmanuel Macron is like Louis XVI who … receives the grievance books but doesn’t understand anything from them.”