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Wed, 11 Dec 2019 15:04 GMT

Double or Quits: Will Macron Risk a Referendum?


7Dnews London

Fri, 08 Feb 2019 19:24 GMT

President Emmanuel Macron could be set to organise France's first referendum in 14 years to end months of yellow vest protests, but analysts said the move is a risky gamble.

Macron has clawed back some lost popularity in recent weeks by throwing himself into his grand national debate, a series of town hall events aimed at tamping down the yellow vest revolt which began in November.

But the real test for the 41-year-old will be what he does with the feedback from hundreds of conversations underway around the country, as well as the 700,000-plus contributions made online.

Macron has confirmed that he is considering calling a referendum on some of the demands emanating from the public consultation, reportedly on the same day as elections for the European parliament on May 26.

Macron's hero, post-war presidential leader Charles de Gaulle, is the architect of the current constitution and saw referendums as an important part of governing France under a system that concentrates power in the hands of the president.

De Gaulle cemented his position by winning three referendums, but he fell at the fourth, with the "Non" to his regional and Senate reforms in 1969 prompting him to step down as president.

Jean-Philippe Derosier, a law professor and constitutional expert at the University of Lille told AFP, "You go for double or quits to try to get out of a crisis,at the risk of being plunged into an even deeper crisis."

A referendum would be the culminating point of Macron's efforts to turn the page on the worst crisis of his 20-month-old presidency.

Protesters in rural and small-town France began occupying roundabouts in mid-November. The movement ballooned into an anti-Macron revolt, with weekly rallies in Paris and other cities regularly turning violent.

The president's first response was to announce a 10-billion-euro ($11.4 million) package of tax cuts and state top-ups for low-income workers and pensioners. He then launched the great national debate, promising it will lead to real changes.

But there are two potential problems:

Some ministers and MPs in Macron's party worry that holding the referendum on the same day as the European polls would lead to a confusing election campaign.

And analysts said Macron would also need to find a balance between asking meaningful questions to the electorate and avoiding hot topics that could lead to a damaging personal defeat.

Macron, who championed grassroots democracy during campaigning, appears reluctant to go down that path.

“Look at what happened in Britain” said Macron, pointing to Brexit as an example of what happens when a complex issue is put to the vote.