“Are you in favour of the government’s plan to privatise the French postal service?” That is the question two million French citizens were asked (the vast majority answered “No”) in a large-scale “citizens’ initiative referendum” held by the country’s left-wing parties and trade unions this past weekend. Bolstered by its success, the organisers are now calling on the government to hold a nationwide referendum on the matter. Libération says this vote “puts consultation of the people (back) at the centre of political debate”. In July a constitutional reform went into effect enshrining the right to hold a “citizen’s initiative referendum” in France in order to block a legislative bill. But parliament still has to rubber-stamp the holding of a nationwide referendum – and by that time the French postal service will already have passed into the private sector. “A referendum on the Post Office could have been (…) a chance to break with the Bonapartist and Gaullist tradition in which direct consultation (of the people) does not definitively resolve the matter unless it is turned into a bona fide plebiscite,” writes Libération. Despite their limitations and imperfections, popularly initiated referendums are part and parcel of democratic debate in Italy and Switzerland. And they remain an “essential tool of ‘participatory democracy’”, concludes the French daily.