In the big debate, frustrations but brotherhood

Announced by Emmanuel Macron in December, the big national debate took shape at the end of last week, in all corners of France.

Taxation and the referendum on the citizens' initiative are among the most discussed topics.

Report in Yonne, Noord and Tarn-et-Garonne

From our special correspondent and our regional correspondents

It is 18:30, Friday, January 18, when the doors of the town hall of Lys-lez-Lannoy (North) are opened. It is there, in this city with 13,500 inhabitants near Roubaix, that one of the first meetings of the big debate, launched by Emmanuel Macron in response to the crisis of the yellow vests, takes place. The UDI mayor welcomes the first-comers. "We are here to listen to you and to facilitate your speech in calm and good mood", Gaetan seems to reassure Jeanne.

The room is divided into four, to discuss the various themes that have been chosen by the government. Little instructions, no microphone, no facilitator: "Are we just here to fill in the questionnaires?" observes a resident, disappointed. "Where is the ISF?" questions a pensioner. After a few minutes of scrambling, citizens take control, move the tables and launch a first question. For their part, yellow cardigans from the Leers roundabout, a neighboring town, spread a leaflet to stick on the notebooks: "Or you agree, or you make proposals that you do not like!"

Taxes, an important theme

After a few minutes, the discussions start to rustle. Especially on the side of "Taxes and public expenditures". "The tax evaded, why do not we follow it in France?"says a woman with a frown, talking about Carlos Ghosn. "No salary like it can be justified"adds his neighbor. In order to reduce the government deficit, Jean-Claude, retired by metallurgy, proposes "We are starting to remove the benefits of some elected officials and senior officials!". He calls the Senate gardeners who, according to him, would receive a night premium, the beneficial pension plans of members of parliament, "Not the mayors" he says, looking at the city councilor.

"Attention for fake news even if ", noticed a participant. But the frustrations, fuse, can not be suppressed. Marc, a retired nurse, wants to end this "Fallacious argument that we can not restore the ISF because it would deter the happiest …""The athletes, that they pay their taxes in France!", adds another. "Soon there will be no middle class"we hear between the conversations. The first written proposals emerge: restoration of wealth tax, dividend payment, etc.

At the crossroads of "ecological transition", there is … nobody. Except Anne, activist "walker" from the first hour but who has not been walking around too much since then "The president does not stop being tied." "I try to cycle to go to work but honestly I am afraid to leave my lungs …"notes Emmanuelle, a social worker, who joins her. In the room there are eventually 130 people. We are talking about developing the metro or relocating abandoned tram lines. Dimitri, computer scientist, calls for teleworking instead of "Keep working at 90 in the same place, with the same hours". Work back in the countryside, while maintaining the social bond …

At 20.00 the room is already emptied by half. Eloise proposes to regroup for informal feedback. The participants are a little disappointed – "We did not have enough time", "It is not a real debate", "The questionnaires are badly written" – but glad I was able to discuss what looked more like a local news meeting than a debate. Some, such as Théophile, 18, are ready to organize an upcoming meeting in a room lent by the Town Hall, in the hope that they will become broader. Because there were mostly yellow cardigans, pensioners and officials that night.

In Espalais, "the RIC first"

At the other end of France, this Friday, we find the same sociology in the town hall. Here, in Espalais, a small village in the Tarn-et-Garonne, the meeting is organized by the group yellow vests of Valence d & # 39; Agen. And of the hundred people present there are only twenty known roundabouts.

The meeting was duly registered at the scene of the big debate. But no mistake: "She is not in this environment that smells, would like to mark Alain, one of the animators of the evening. We start to organize and the registration on the site is an initiative of one of our members about which we did not all agree. " For the latter it is earlier «An information meeting of the yellow vests at the citizens' initiative referendum, the RIC». Which act. The introduction sets the tone. It calls it "Contempt for Macron in proportion to the contempt that he exudes for us", "our democracy that is no more than an oligarchy of the powerful ", the "Unprecedented repression of the police" and "Media paid by the government". Alain then launches a video about the RIC, from the YouTube channel Demos Kratos, based on an interview with the teacher Etienne Chouard, reference of yellow cardigans.

After the screening, Alexandra specifies the other organizer of the appointment. This RIC must be "Legislative in every case, revocable, abrogative and must allow to change the Constitution". A member of the public calls for the referendum of a popular initiative launched in 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy: "It would be possible to develop it, with lower thresholds, say 800,000 people and about 90 MPs, we can not quite separate from the representative democracy.""The MPs, they betrayed us"leave one of his neighbors. For Alain the RIC is that "Our main claim, because it depends on everyone else, is the beginning of a VIe Republic that puts everything flat. "

Then comes the video presentation of 25 claims "From reflections of the movement at national and local level". Some have also been taken over from the program of the candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Help is invited to choose "The ten priority topics", and to vote them on the 1st February, during the next gathering of the collective. "We have to stay mobilized until April, because when Macron announces what comes out of the big debate, there will be a French and European spring", bet Alain, before adding: "Do not lose faith, we're being watched around the world, people are waiting for results, we will not let them down."

Find the lost brotherhood

"The priory is here?" In the dark night of Montreal (Yonne) a shadow approaches inconspicuously. The man is the vanguard of a small group of yellow vests from Avallon. They are six to make the move to this small village of 193 inhabitants and do not really know where to set foot. "We were a bit afraid to come, slip Paul (1)we wondered if we would not encounter any anti-yellow vests. "

In this corner of Burgundy, marked by territorial breaks, the atmosphere contrasts with the rebels of Espalais. This time the meeting responds to the call of the Bishops' Conference of France to discuss the current crisis. And the arrival of yellow cardigans in the middle of this meeting of sixty people is a good surprise for the participants. "A parish is being made for this, for the exchange, for the dialogue, for the meetings"says Father François Campagnac, chaplain of Montreal and co-organizer of tonight with his counterpart of Avallon, Ivan Roulier.

Paul is reassured. This lumberjack of 37, who can no longer work because of back problems, is arranged in a circle on Saturday, January 19 in the chapel of the priory Saint Bernard in exchange for Christians. Shyness of each other was quickly broken, the "Thanks for coming" respond "Thanks for this great initiative".

Jérôme Vaurette, 33, a worker in a tire renewal plant, took the step with Paul. "There is real misery in this country, with people who earn millions and others who sniff through trash cans to eathe started. That is why we do not let go and we are always outside. We found something that we had lost, brotherhood. This is essential for the future of the movement and for all humanity. So when you're on the road, stop and talk to us. "

These simple words were greeted with applause, and everyone could then express themselves in the different groups. Citizens' initiative referendum, dismissal of elected officials, representativeness of trade unions, violence and excesses … Just as elsewhere in France, the same themes are reflected on the table. They did not always agree, but they listened. "This meeting can ask for more questions, welcomes Antoine Renard, member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council and one of the speakers of the evening. It is the basis that we have to go back locally to restore confidence. "

Father François agrees: "It invites us to become local weavers, it happens here and now, not necessarily with Jupiter." In his own way Paul cultivates this groove already. In the courtyard of the priory, he talks to a participant, Agnes Soliveau. This retired farmer confesses that she had "The funk" pass at the Avallon roundabout. "I can not stand violence, it's nice to hear a different sound"she told him. "We are not haters, we are not crushers, the & # 39; yellow cardigan & # 39; answers him. Come to the cabin whenever you want. We will drink a coffee. " Agnes accepted the invitation.

Pascal Charrier (in Montreal), Jean-Luc Ferré (in Espalais) and Fanny Magdelaine (in Lys-lez-Lannoy)