Dear Frenchwomen, dear Frenchmen, my dear compatriots,
At a time of questioning and uncertainty like the one we are going through, we must remember who we are.
France is a country unlike any other.
The sense of injustice is felt more keenly here than elsewhere. The demand for mutual assistance and solidarity is stronger.
In our country, those who work pay for retired people’s pensions. In our country, a large number of citizens pay – sometimes high – income tax, which reduces inequalities. In our country, education, health, security and justice are accessible to everyone, regardless of position or wealth. Life’s hardships, such as unemployment, may be overcome through everyone sharing the effort.
This is why France is one of the most fraternal and egalitarian of all nations.
It is also one of the freest, since everyone’s rights and freedom of expression, conscience, belief and philosophy are protected.
And every citizen has the right to choose who will speak for them in the running of the country, the framing of legislation and the major decisions to be taken.
Everyone shares the destiny of others and everyone is called on to decide everyone’s destiny: this is what the French nation is all about.
How can we not feel proud to be French?
I know, of course, that some of us today are dissatisfied or angry. Because taxes are too high for them, public services too remote, salaries are too low for some to be able to make a decent living from the fruits of their labour, because our country does not offer people from different backgrounds the same opportunities to succeed. All of them would like a more prosperous country and fairer society.
I share this ambition. The society we want is one in which we should not need contacts or wealth to succeed, but effort and work.
In France, and also in Europe and the world, people are not just extremely worried, they are deeply distressed. We must respond with clear ideas.
But there is one condition for this: tolerate no form of violence. I do not tolerate pressure or insults, those, for example, directed at elected representatives of the people, I do not tolerate general accusations, directed, for example, at the media, journalists, institutions and civil servants. If everyone attacks everyone else, society falls apart!
In order for hopes to dominate fears, it is necessary and legitimate for us together to return to the major questions about our future.
This is why I have proposed and am today launching a major national debate which will go on until 15 March 2019.
In the past few weeks, mayors have opened their town halls so you can make your expectations known. I have had some initial feedback, which I have been able to take on board. We are now going to enter a broader phase and you will be able to participate in debates near where you live or air your views on the Internet and put forward your proposals and ideas. In metropolitan France, overseas France or abroad as a French person living there. In villages, towns, districts, at the initiative of mayors, [other] elected officials, leaders of voluntary organizations, and ordinary citizens. In parliamentary, regional and departmental assemblies.
Mayors will have an essential role because they are your elected representatives and therefore act as the legitimate intermediary for citizens to express their views.
For me, no question is off limits. We will not agree on everything; that is normal, it is democracy. But at least we will show that we are people who are not afraid of talking, having discussions or debating.
And perhaps we will discover that the majority of us can agree, going beyond our preferences, more often than we think.
I have not forgotten that I was elected on a project, on major objectives to which I remain true. I still think that we must make France prosperous again so that it can be generous, because one goes with the other. I still think that fighting unemployment must be our top priority, and that jobs are created above all in businesses, so they must be given the means to develop. I still think that we must rebuild industrial, digital and agricultural sovereignty, and invest in knowledge and research to achieve this. I still think that we must rebuild a School of Trust, remodel the social security system so that it better protects French people and reduces inequality by tackling it at its root. I still think that the depletion of natural resources and climate disruption oblige us to rethink our development model. We must come up with a new, fairer, more efficient way of producing and acting at the social, educational, environmental and European level. On these major objectives, I am just as determined.
But I also think that from this debate a clearer picture can emerge of our national and European project, new ways of envisaging the future, and new ideas.
I hope that as many French people, as many of us as possible can participate in this debate.
This debate will have to answer some essential questions which have emerged over the past few weeks. This is why the government and I have selected four major themes which cover many of the nation’s major challenges: taxation and public spending, the organization of the state and public services, the ecological transition, and democracy and citizenship. On each of them, proposals and questions are already being voiced. I would like to put forward a few of them, which do not cover every aspect of the debate but I think are at the heart of our concerns.
The first focuses on our taxes, spending and public action.
Taxes are at the heart of our national solidarity. They are what finance our public services. They pay teachers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, judges, nurses and all the civil servants who work for you. They enable us to pay out social security benefits to the most vulnerable people as well as finance certain large-scale future projects, our research, our culture and maintain our infrastructure. It is taxes, too, which allow us to pay off the very large debt our country has run up over time.
Yet taxes, when too high, deprive our economy of the resources which could usefully be invested in business, thus creating jobs and growth. And they deprive workers of the fruits of their labour. We will not go back over the measures we have taken to correct this, in order to encourage investment and ensure that work pays more. These have just been voted through and are only just starting to deliver results. Parliament will evaluate them transparently after the requisite time has passed. However, we must think about how to go further.
How can we make our taxation fairer and more efficient? What taxes do you think should be lowered as a priority?
We cannot, for whatever reason, go on lowering taxes without lowering the overall level of our public spending.
What savings do you think should be a priority?
Should we axe some public services which may be outdated or more costly than they are useful? Conversely, do you see any new needs of public services and, if so, how would these be financed?
Our social model is also being challenged. Some deem it inadequate, others too expensive because of the contributions they pay. The effectiveness of training and employment services is often criticized. The government has begun to address this, following extensive consultation, through a strategy to improve our health and fight poverty and unemployment.
How can we better organize our social pact? What objectives should be defined as a priority?
The second issue on which we have to take decisions is how the state and public authorities are organized.
Public services cost money, but they are vital: schools, police, the army, hospitals and courts are essential for our social cohesion.
Are there too many civil service and local authority levels? Should we strengthen decentralization and bring the power to make decisions and take action down to grassroots level as far as possible? At which levels and for which services?
How would you like the state to be organized and how can it improve what it does? Should we review the way the civil service functions, and how?
How can the state and local authorities improve in order to respond more effectively to the challenges for areas of our country in most difficulty, and what do you propose?
The ecological transition is the third theme, essential for our future.
I have committed myself to objectives to protect biodiversity and combat global warming and air pollution. No one today questions the urgent need to act fast. The longer we delay looking at what we are doing, the more painful these changes will become.
Making the ecological transition allows us to reduce spending on fuel, heating, waste management and transport. But to make this transition a success, we need to invest on a huge scale and support our fellow citizens from the most modest backgrounds.
National solidarity is necessary for all French people to achieve this.
How do we pay for the ecological transition? Through taxes? If so, who should pay as a priority?
How do we make concrete solutions accessible to everyone, for example, replacing an old boiler or an old car? What are the simplest, most financially viable solutions?
What solutions in terms of travel, housing, heating and food must be devised at local rather than national level? What concrete proposals would you make to speed up our environmental transition?
Biodiversity is also an issue which affects us all.
How should we scientifically guarantee the choices we have to make in this respect? How can we get these choices shared at European and international level so that our farmers and manufacturers are not penalized compared to their foreign competitors?
Finally, it is clear that the period our country is going through shows that we have to restore more power to democracy and citizenship.
Being a citizen means helping to decide the country’s future by electing representatives at local, national and European levels. This system of representation is the foundation stone of our Republic, but it must be improved because many people do not feel represented after elections.
Should we recognize blank ballot papers? Should we make voting compulsory?
What is the right amount of proportional representation in parliamentary elections to ensure that there is a fairer representation of all political projects?
Should the number of parliamentarians or other categories of elected official be limited? If so, to what extent?
What role should our assemblies – including the Senate and Economic, Social and Environmental Council – play in representing our country and civil society? Should they be changed, and if so, how?
A great democracy like France must also be able to listen more often to what its citizens are saying.
What changes would you like to see to make citizen participation more active and democracy more participatory?
Should unelected citizens – chosen by lots, for example – have greater and more direct involvement in public decision-making?
Should we hold more referendums and, if so, who should initiate them?
Citizenship is also about living together.
Our country has always been able to welcome those fleeing war and persecution, who sought refuge on our soil: this is the right of asylum, which cannot be called into question. Our national community has also always been open to those who, born elsewhere, chose France, seeking a better future: this is also one of the ways France has been built. Yet this tradition is being rocked today by tensions and doubts linked to immigration and the failures of our integration system.
What do you propose for improving the way our nation integrates people? As regards immigration, once our asylum obligations have been fulfilled, would you like us to be able to set ourselves annual targets defined by Parliament? What do you propose to tackle this challenge which will last?
The issue of laïcité [secularism] (1) is still the subject of significant debate in France. Laïcité is the fundamental value which allows people with different religious and philosophical beliefs to get on with each other and live together in harmony. It is synonymous with freedom because it allows everyone to live according to their choices.
How can the principles of laïcité be strengthened in the relationship between the state and our country’s religions? How can we guarantee that everyone respects mutual understanding and the intangible values of the Republic?
In the coming weeks, I invite you to debate and answer these questions of decisive importance to our nation’s future. I would also like you, beyond the subjects I am proposing, to talk about any concrete subject you feel could improve your daily lives.
This debate is an unprecedented initiative, from which I am firmly resolved to draw all conclusions. It is neither an election nor a referendum. What is expected here is your personal view, reflecting your personal history, opinions and priorities, irrespective of age or social status. I think it is a major step forward for our Republic to consult its citizens in this way. To guarantee your freedom of speech, I want this consultation to be organized completely independently and governed by every guarantee of fairness and transparency.
This is how I intend to turn anger into solutions with you.
Your proposals will therefore allow us to build a new contract for the nation, to give structure to the action of the government and Parliament, and also France’s positions at European and international levels. I will report back to you directly in the months following the end of the debate.
Dear Frenchwomen, dear Frenchmen, my dear compatriots, I hope as many of you as possible can take part in this great debate to make a useful contribution to our country’s future.
Yours in trust,
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.