France wants tax cuts, Macron hears from two months of town halls

The French want to pay less tax.

That was the clear message that emerged from a two-month “Great Debate” that saw voters present their grievances and suggest remedies to President Emmanuel Macron.

“There’s an exasperation about taxes,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in Paris Monday, as he was presented with a study outlining the findings of the national debate. “The clear message is that taxes must fall and fall fast.”

French President Emmanuel Macron (left)
Emmanuel Macron, France's president, waits to receive guests at the Elysee Palace ahead of a dinner with Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's crown prince, in Paris, France, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Macron and Mohammed, who is on his first visit to France as Crown Prince, already met in Riyadh in November. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Other findings were that the French want a better balance between economic development in large cities and the struggling regions, and that French democracy should be more “transparent and participatory,” with large majorities calling for proportional representation. Participants didn’t voice much concern about immigration.

Macron announced the “Great Debate” in December to respond to the Yellow Vest protests that shook the country over the winter, inviting people to vent their frustrations. The initiative drew ridicule from opposition parties but sparked an interest from the public and helped reduce support for the continuing demonstrations.

Pollsters OpinionWay and consultants Roland Berger were hired to sort through the contributions that emerged from about 10,500 town hall meetings held across the country, as well as 15,000 “grievance registers” in mayors’ offices where anyone could write what’s bothering them or make suggestions, a tradition dating back to before the 1789 revolution. An online version received 1.7 million contributions.

Philippe will make further presentations about the findings to the National Assembly Tuesday and the Senate Wednesday. Legislation taking into account the findings could begin later this month.

Among the findings, valued added tax and income tax were the levies that most people listed as needing reduction. Only about 10 percent of people cited bringing back the wealth tax, though about 28 percent want higher income taxes for wealthy earners.

For 75 percent of the participants, the lower taxes must be accompanied by cutting government spending, though they were vague about where the cuts should come, with 75 percent citing “the lifestyle of the state.”

Only about 10 percent raised the issue of cutting immigration, about the same percentage called for a better welcome for migrants. A majority said they are affected by climate change, but a majority also said they didn’t want to pay higher taxes to achieve environmental goals.

“The French understand what’s at stake,” Philippe said. “They just don’t want taxes telling them what to do.”