'Emmanuel Macron’s plan for the biggest wave of French privatisations in a decade is under threat after opposition politicians took the unusual step of joining ranks to push for a referendum on the sale of Paris airports.
The centrist French president wants to sell the state’s controlling stake in Aéroports de Paris, the profitable operator of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, which are used by more than 100 million passengers each year. It would be among the biggest privatisation operations in French history, alongside Macron’s plans to sell other stakes in the national lottery as well as the gas and power group ENGIE.
The privatisation on the Paris airports is a crucial part of Macron’s modernisation plans for the French economy. A source close to the president said the state was not best qualified to run airport shopping and, with Charles de Gaulle ranked low for passenger experience, private managers could improve that. Profit from the sale – expected to be more than €7bn (£5.5bn) – would be redirected into a new investment fund for startup companies and technology, and would also help plug the national debt.
But political opponents accuse Macron of “flogging the family silver” and letting go of strategic state infrastructure. They say the UK, with its privatised Heathrow airport and privatised railways, illustrates a potential nightmare scenario of key transport infrastructure run for profit.
In an extraordinary move, a highly unlikely coalition of French politicians who are normally each other’s bitter enemies – ranging from communists and the hard-left to free-marketeers from Les Républicains, Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing party – have joined force against the Paris airports’ privatisation. They have been authorised by France’s constitutional council to make the first ever use of a people’s referendum mechanism introduced by Sarkozy in 2008. If they can get the signatures of 10% of the French electorate – 4.7 million people – within the next nine months, a national referendum will be held for or against the airports’ privatisation.'
Read more: French parties unite in call for referendum on Macron's airports sell-off
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