After the Gilets jaunes protests crescendoed President Macron announced a Grand debat, a consultation process that members of the public could participate in. With cahiers des doléances left in town halls for people to express their grievances in it did have unfortunate echoes of the Revolution, and was received with some cynicism, but nevertheless, it was gesture that went down reasonably well with moderate liberals.
My friend Jean-Claude thought it might be worth having public meeting to consolidate people's thoughts and send a single curated report to Paris which outlined what we Prullaiciens want for the future. He was also concerned that if we didn't hold a meeting in Preuilly the nearest one we could participate in was Loches, a good 30 minutes away.
He projected a list of the Gilets jaunes demands onto the big screen in the salle des fêtes then the thirty or so people present discussed the points one by one and voted on whether they wished to back them or not. Other topics were added as brought up by participants or as picked up from social media networks. The topics were divided into four main themes: Financial Justice and Tax Equality; Implementing Social Responsibilities; Ecological and Energy Transition; and Democracy.
I was very impressed with mild mannered Jean-Claude's ability to control the meeting. To my surprise he was quite capable of telling people that if they couldn't stick to the immediate topic they should sit down and stop hogging the microphone until it was the turn of their point to be discussed. He also quickly brought speakers to a halt if they were simply repeating a point that someone else had already made. There was a bit of discussion about whether we should focus on local issues and not bother with national issues as it was felt we would be less influential there, however, in practice the meeting covered both viewpoints throughout. One of the biggest concerns was implications of the growing aging, retired population locally.
Here are the outcomes of the discussion:
Financial Justice and Tax Equality
- by a small majority, the motion that inheritance tax should be reinstated was carried, but there should be a system for rewarding those who maintained and cared for French heritage.
- although curiously, it was not felt there should be another income tax band of 60% introduced for very high earners. Rather, it was felt that tax fraud should be fought more effectively.
- it was felt that the value added tax (TVA) on staples should be lowered, but that the TVA on luxury goods should remain unchanged (not increased) as the manufacturing of these products generated significant employment in France. There was also a feeling that luxury products should not be completely unobtainable by ordinary people, and there was also some discussion about how one defined luxury.
- There was quite a lot of support for the idea of everyone paying income tax, even if it is just a symbolic €1, as a means of reinforcing the interconnectedness of People and State ie they are one and the same.
- The fuel tax was felt to be problematic. On the one hand we need cleaner products, but on the other, many people have no access to public transport and need to use cars. In the end the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of a 3 year moratorium on the fuel tax increase.
- There was little discussion on the vote for a tax on aviation and marine fuel. It was clearly uncontroversial and considered a no-brainer.
- Taxes on multinationals was also not controversial, but did lead to a discussion about how one distinguishes between private and public businesses. This was mainly directed at people's dissatisfaction with how the autoroute companies are allowed to operate.
- The Gilets jaunes have demanded an increase in the net basic wage to €1300/month (currently €1227.39) and the basic age pension to €1200 (currently about €950 I think). The augmentation of the SMIC, as the basic wage is known, passed with little comment. However, there was a lot of discussion and awareness of the way age pensions are funded by those currently working ie the children and grandchildren of those receiving the pension. There was a strong feeling that people did not want to impose a further financial burden on the next generation and that younger people needed a chance to build capital. A compromise was reached with a vote for an increase to €1000/month.
- Increasing the child care aid to children up the age of 10 (from 6) was uncontroversial and passed with little discussion.
- Maintaining aid for home care and nursing homes for the aged was equally uncontroversial, except for one aged plumber, who wanted this restricted to properly French people. He was shouted down by several outraged participants. The argument put forward for State funded aged care was that if it is funded by the children it is often one child who pays and one who doesn't, but because of the French inheritance law about treating all siblings equally, both children in this situation would inherit an equal share of their parent's estate.
- the demand for equality of access to care no matter where you live turned into a discussion about the importance of using local businesses and how to encourage them. Our mayor, Gilles Bertucelli, felt that this was one area the commune was already on top of, having ensured the town retained a dentist, for example, by providing him with newly renovated premises when the previous dentist retired. There was a suggestion that pharmacies act co-operatively to improve buying power and lower prices for non-reimburseable items. One of the participants worked for a top up health insurance organisation and he pointed out that the mutuelles (as top up health insurance is known) are more and more offering cover for non-reimburseables and home care -- if it is centrally sourced.
- There was some discussion about whether social security and the top up insurance companies should be amalgamated, but it was felt that this would reduce choice and there was no agreement about whether it would be better to go down a private or public route if this were to happen. There was universal support for the removal of the non-reimbursable list, and making everything reimbursable.
- The maisons des services publics (local hubs for public service advice) were seen to be important and should be developed.
- One of the demands by the Gilets jaunes is to return the speed limit on the open road to 90km/hour. The 80km/hour speed limit is unpopular in rural areas because it lengthens journey time. The meeting voted for a compromise option of restricting the 80km/hour limit to known accident hot spots, and for an end to punitive double fines and loss of points for small infractions for transport companies.
Ecological and Energy Transition
- a prominent local farmer proposed more effective pursuit of environmental infractions by the State (eg pollution of the Claise basin by a recidivist dairy farmer) as well as support for farmers doing the right thing and better flood management. This was passed.
- Although M. Bertucelli argued that everything was in place to pursue a local plan for renewable energy, the meeting voted to ask for an increase in the income ceilings for individuals, to allow them access to aid to enable a bigger investment.
- the lack of support for asylum seekers was deemed the 'shame of France'. Asylum seekers and economic migrants should be welcomed. France must be more generous than she is currently (it was pointed out that only 40 000 asylum seekers were accepted in 2018 and only 50 000 economic migrants in 2016).
- the meeting felt that votes blanc (deliberately blank votes) should be counted, voting should be made compulsory and a proportional counting system introduced.
- the numbers of members of the Legislative Assembly and Senate should be reduced by 30% and the electorates of members of the Legislative Assembly should be reviewed to ensure good representation in rural areas.
- elected officials and members of the government should be granted a transition period after their terms finish, during which they are allowed State funded perks such as drivers and secretaries, but these perks should not continue indefinitely as they do now.
- simplify the administrative layers: remove most of the decentralized services of the State (prefectures, environment, roads, housing, culture, agriculture, health, employment, sports ...) and transfer these skills and corresponding funding to territorial authorities (I'm not clear whether this means the départements or the communautés des communes, but I assume the latter if the préfectures are to go) - remove the Regions.
- boost skills in communes and return to smaller communautés des communes in rural areas.
- to prevent a return of this sort of crisis situation, give the Association of Mayors their old role of alerting the Government to the feeling in the population when new political schemes are put in place.
- develop participative democracy: use popular initiative or citizen referenda when there is a demand by at least 1.5 million citizens and at least four Senators or Members of the Legislative Assembly from four different parties.
For those of you who want to go further and read a very good overview of the Gilets jaunes movement -- how it formed, who is in it, how it is evolving, what might happen next... -- I refer you to Arun Kapil's blog post on the subject, which includes the transcript of a talk given by veteran France correspondant John Lichfield.
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