Mr Macron wants to sell the government’s stake in Aeroports de Paris, which operates Charles de Gaulle and Orly. The centrist president also has plans to privatise the national lottery, along with the gas and power group ENGIE. But political opponents have said Mr Macron is “flogging the family silver” by selling state infrastructure and have teamed up to try to get a people’s referendum approved.
France’s constitutional council has a people’s referendum mechanism that was introduced by former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.
If they can get the signatures of 10 percent of French voters, which works out at 4.7 million people, within the next nine months, a national referendum will be held for or against the airports’ privatisation.
One campaigner said: “It will be extremely difficult but not entirely impossible.”
They urged French voters from all regions and living abroad to sign up.
There have been problems with the government’s online platform crashing.
But more than 200,000 people are believed to have signed up since June 13.
At least 17,000 signatures a day would be needed to reach the 4.7m that is required.
Laurent Russier, the communist mayor of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, said: “It would be the first time the people would be able to decide on such a massive issue of privatisation.”
One person who signed the petition, Michel, 80, said: “A referendum is a good thing because I don’t trust politicians. The people should decide.”
Another person who added her support, Danielle said: “Selling off Paris airports is one privatisation too far. We’ll end up looking like Britain in a Ken Loach film.
“An airport is not just about selling macarons or perfume – it’s security and the environment.”
Claire, whose surname was not revealed, had worked in baggage-sorting at Charles de Gaulle for 25 years.
She said: “We need to keep it human. It’s not a profit machine.”
But Gérard Lacher, a member of Les Républicains and head of the Senate, warned the referendum drive would be a “hijacking of democracy”.
The recent gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters over fuel tax increases have also shown the population’s anger at privatisation.
Les Républicains MP Philippe Dallier said: “I bitterly regret supporting motorway privatisation and vowed to never make the same mistake [again]. That’s why I’m fighting Paris airport privatisation.”