Under pressure, Macron promises referendum in May, a report says

President Emmanuel Macron is considering organizing what would be the first referendum in France in 14 years in May, as it is one of the main demands expressed in the “yellow vest” protests, a report said on Sunday.

The Journal du Dimanche newspaper added to persistent rumors that Macron was preparing to call the vote on the same day as European Parliament elections on May 26. The newspaper reported on Sunday that the French would be asked whether they wanted to reduce the number of national lawmakers, a campaign pledge by Macron. Yellow vests, however, have demanded to lower the wages of lawmakers and reduce the numerous perks granted with their position. They would also be asked whether they favored imposing a limit on the number of terms lawmakers could serve in a bid to prevent career politicians staying in power.

“The president of the Republic doesn’t exclude anything, but has not yet taken a decision,” Nathalie Loiseau, European affairs minister, told French media in an interview on Sunday. Speaking to reporters last week, Macron was asked to comment on recent reports in the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine suggesting a referendum was being prepared. “It’s one of the things on the table,” he said on Thursday. Macron has faced the biggest challenge of his 20-month presidency in recent months after numerous protests over fuel prices and living standards by “yellow vest” demonstrators. In December, he announced a package of measures for low-income families, including a hike in the minimum wage and other tax cuts. But he still refuses to restore a tax on the wealthiest citizens and business executives of the country he had himself eliminated.

He followed up by organizing a “great national debate,” a series of town hall meetings which are underway across the country to discuss the government’s policy choices and challenges, but yellow vests have been very critical of the initiative so far, arguing that Macron was leaving out of the negotiation table the issues that mattered the most. It began on January 15 and is set to run for two months. Under France’s fifth republic, which began in 1958, the president is able to call referendums, but the power has been used only nine times since then.

It was last invoked in 2005 for a referendum on a new European constitution, which the then government of President Jacques Chirac lost in a shock setback. Despite the result, the constitution was still implemented under the social-democrat government of Francois Hollande by the national lawmakers.

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