Mr Macron launched his “great national debate” in January, dutifully attending long question-and-answer sessions in town halls with local officials and voters. Close to two million people took part online, submitting proposals on issues ranging from taxes to citizen-led referendums, while another million attended the almost 1,500 meetings organised across the country. The policy debate was one of the key responses to the sometimes violent, anti-government yellow vest movement, which has undeniably become the biggest and most damaging crisis of Mr Macron’s presidency.
The yellow vest protests, so-called because of the bright safety jackets all French motorists must carry in their cars, started in mid-November over fuel taxes but quickly morphed into a working class rebellion against Mr Macron’s aloof governing style and pro-business economic policies.
The meeting on the fiercely independent Mediterranean island was a symbolic but prickly 15th and final destination for the debates, but Mr Macron’s trip was marred by a boycott from ruling nationalists calling for greater autonomy.
Accusing the 41-year-old centrist of turning a deaf ear to their repeated demands for greater independence from the mainland, Gilles Simeoni, the nationalist head of Corsican regional government, and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the regional parliament speaker, refused to attend a debate in the mountain village of Cozzano.
Only 200 mayors out of the 360 invited by the Macron government showed up at the meeting.
Corsican nationalists have three core demands – greater autonomy, mandatory Corsican language lessons at schools, and amnesty for prisoners jailed for separatist-related violence.
They also want controversial measures to ban wealthy mainlanders from the local property market.
Mr Macron has offered to make Corsican a possible subject in the French curriculum and to enshrine the “specificity” of Corsica in the French constitution, but nationalists say this isn’t enough.
Corsica in recent weeks has experienced a worrying upsurge in small-scale bomb attacks which have reignited fears of a return to a darker period which saw scores of bombings by hardline separatists from the 1970s to the early 2000s.
“Corsicans deserve better than trench warfare,” Mr Macron warned when asked to comment on the recent uptick in violence.
Mr Macron’s nationwide debates have had mixed reviews, with the president seeking throughout to shake off his reputation as an arrogant president of the rich by responding openly to questions and engaging with citizens.
It remains unclear what concrete measures might emerge from the exercise, with the presidency promising Mr Macron’s conclusions by mid-April.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, for his part, is expected to share the findings of the online contributions as early as next week.
But there is no guarantee the new measures will ease yellow vest anger.
Some 79 percent of French people think that the policy debate will not solve the yellow vest crisis, an Elabe poll published on Wednesday found.
The poll of 1,002 people, conducted online between April 2-3 for BFM TV, also showed that 68 per cent “doubt” the Macron government will take into account the proposals put forward by citizens during the debates when shaping new policies.