Before Emmanuel Macron, two presidents sent a "letter to the French" under the Fifth Republic: François Mitterrand in 1988 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, in a different context because purely electoral. The letter that Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to publish Monday aims to frame the issues of the great national debate that opens Tuesday, with the hope of calming the anger of the "yellow vests".
The letters circulated by François Mitterrand in April 1988 and Nicolas Sarkozy in April 2012 had a programmatic tone: it was for the two presidents, candidates for re-election, to expose their project a few weeks before the election.
"Letter to all the French"
On 7 April 1988, Socialist President François Mitterrand published – as the law still allows – in several national and regional newspapers a "letter to all the French".
After a "My Dear Compatriots" written by hand, the letter begins as follows: "You will understand it.I wish, by this letter, to speak to you about France". The president-candidate explains that he wants to speak to the French "as around the table, as a family".
Two and a half weeks before the first round of the presidential election, the initiative has long electoral value after two years of tense cohabitation with Jacques Chirac. Foreign policy, Europe, social issue with the announcement of a future "minimum income" for "victims of the new poverty" or cultural policy: the candidate-president lists in seven chapters his program for the next seven years. The idea served him better because he won on May 8 in the second round against Jacques Chirac, with 54% of the vote.
Two years later, the law limiting election expenses, developed under the government of Michel Rocard, will now prohibit this type of "advertising" in the press and audio-visual during the three months preceding an election.
"Letter to the French people"
During the presidential campaign of 2012, the same process is still reused in April by the presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy with his "letter to the French people". The missive, slightly shorter, with 34 pages, than that of François Mitterrand, is this time broadcast in digital form, sent by email, and printed to 6 million copies and distributed by elected officials and activists.
"I want to speak to you without any intermediary," writes the outgoing president. "I want to do it in writing, because the writing remains, the writing commits", he insists before exposing his program. He lost in the second round, on May 6 against Francois Hollande (51.6%).
Letter on pensions
We can add to these two presidential missives, the letter of a Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, addressed in 2003 to all the French about the pension reform. Sent by La Poste to 26 million French households in mid-June 2003, this rather short letter attempted to explain a recast designed to save the pension system from "collapse". In protest against a reform providing for the extension of contribution periods, 25,000 French refused the fold and returned it to the sender.