Explosive Corsica offers tense end to Emmanuel Macron’s do-or-die ‘great debate’ tour of France

President Emmanuel Macron completed an exhausting “great debate” tour of France yesterday (Thurs) with a tense visit to Corsica, where nationalists boycotted the meeting and brandished the island’s flag depicting a beheaded Moor by way of welcome.

Mr Macron, has spent almost 100 hours listening since January listening and responding to the grievances of local mayors and officials in meetings around France. The exercise was part of an attempt to assuage the yellow-vest revolt, which fanned from the provinces to Paris and snowballed into the worst crisis of his presidency.

Almost two million people have posted suggestions on issues ranging from taxes to popular referendums on a dedicated website while a further million have taken part in almost 1,500 meetings across the country.

Mr Macron’s uncannily good memory and stamina have won plaudits during the 15 debates he has taken part in with groups ranging from intellectuals in Paris to schoolchildren in Burgundy. Even rivals offered grudging praise at his ability to go from macroeconomics to the minutiae of local politics, on everything from “bears in the Pyrenees to toxins in Tampax”, to quote one observer cited by Le Figaro.

As a result his poll ratings have started to recover after hit an all-time low amid claims he was an arrogant and out-of-touch “president of the rich”.

With France's 'Grand Débat' drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?
With France’s ‘Grand Débat’ drawing to a close, the question remains: what measures will President Emmanuel Macron propose as a response?

However, with the debate period now coming to a close, all eyes are on whether he can translate the unprecedented exercise in “participative democracy” into workable measures that will satisfy the irascible gilets jaunes and stamp out violent protests in Paris and other big cities.

His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, is due next Monday to outline the initial findings from the website contributions, which have been fed to an artificial intelligence application for keywords. Mr Macron is then due to announce proposals on the back of the debates later this month. Some commentators say these could be radical.

Mr Macron did not pick the easiest of venues to round off his marathon debate tour as he was met by nationalists waving the Corsican flag, which depicts the black head of a beheaded pirate, along the route towards a village where the debate took place near Ajaccio. They were furious that only the French and European flags were flying at the venue.

Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his "great debate' tour - a response to France's yellow vest revolt
Emmanuel Macron was snubbed by nationalists in Corsica, where he rounded off his “great debate’ tour – a response to France’s yellow vest revolt CREDIT:

Less than half of the 350 mayors invited turned up while Corsica’s two top politicians, Gilles Simeoni, the nationalist head of Corsican regional government, and his more radical coalition partner in the Corsican assembly, Jean-Guy Talamoni, boycotted the meeting in protest at Mr Macron’s refusal to cede to their demands.

These include an amnesty for prisoners jailed for separatist violence, wider use of the Corsican language and measures to bar wealthy mainlanders from the local property market.

The president has offered to add an article on Corsica to the constitution which would recognise its “specificity” and allow the regional assembly to adapt some national legislation.

But after a five-year lull, there are fears of renewed violence on the Mediterranean “island of beauty” after plastic explosives were found at tax offices in Bastia two days before Mr Macron’s visit and several second homes were blown up in recent weeks.

In an interview this week, Mr Macron said he would ”do everything to ensure that the page of violence has been turned for good”.

“I think that you can defend the Corsican identity and fully respect the nation and its values,” he added. 

During the debate, he said he too wanted to move forward, but called on nationalists to express regret at the assassination of the highest state representative on the island, Claude Erignac, gunned down in 1998.

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