French parties support legal proposal to introduce citizens' referendum

Published 17.12.2018 21:54
Updated 18.12.2018 08:00

The left-wing party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France Insoumise, announced yesterday their intention to file a legal proposal to introduce in the French Constitution a "citizens' initiative referendum" that would allow citizens to propose new laws.

"The [latest] mobilization proves the will of the people to reclaim promises and political decisions. The Fifth Republic does not allow it. It is urgent to introduce into the Constitution the mechanisms of [citizens' initiative]," a group led by Mélenchon said in a statement.

As the French government is set to rush tax cuts and a rise in the minimum wage through parliament in a bid to end the "yellow vest" protests, the idea of a "citizens' initiative referendum" (référendum d'initiative citoyenne, or RIC), is one of the major demands of the protesters. This idea is supported by politicians across the political spectrum, including far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe acknowledged the concessions, specifically saying he would consider one of the main demands made by protesters, who have called for citizen initiated referendums, on the Swiss model.

"I don't see how we could be against the principle of it. Referenda can be a good tool in a democracy, but not on every issue or under whatever circumstances," Philippe said.

The President of the French National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, said Sunday he was ready to see the referendum issue debated. But "rules must be established," he told France 3 television, for example as regards voter turnout to ensure that "popular expression is not betrayed by minorities."

And one should make sure that the referendum is "appropriate" to avoid people asking for example that "pensions be tripled" or that "this or that minister be sacked because of a wrong decision," he added.

The new measures "will be discussed on Thursday by the assembly and on Friday by the senate," Ferrand said while urging members of parliament not to delay these "urgent social measures" by introducing too many amendments.

They include a 100-euro pay increase for 5 million minimum wage earners, removal of a planned tax increase for a majority of pensioners, and tax-free overtime for all workers; these proposals could be adopted by Christmas, he added.

The government has also announced a three-month consultation with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the yellow vests to discuss other reforms.

The measures announced a week ago by President Emmanuel Macron will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting tomorrow and put to the French National Assembly and the senate for votes before Christmas, officials said.

But in the meantime, the protesters must dismantle their road blocks, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said yesterday, warning that "we can't continue to paralyze the French economy."

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has acknowledged that the concessions, worth some 10 billion euros, would mean France will breach the public deficit cap of 3 percent of gross domestic product set by EU rules.

"We have made mistakes. We haven't listened enough to the French people," Philippe also said, speaking of the month-long yellow vest movement that has sparked nation-wide demonstrations, along with traffic blockades and the destruction of motorway toll booths.

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