Macron’s Concessions Draw Mixed Response
EghtesadOnline: Many Yellow Vest protesters around France dismissed measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening, though some saw a few meaningful gestures.
In his first address to French people since Yellow Vest protests began in mid-November, Macron promised to raise the minimum wage by €100 per month, lower taxes for pensioners and allow small businesses not to tax yearend bonuses, among other measures.
For many involved in the protests, which began in opposition to a fuel tax hike before transforming to a widespread opposition to the government’s fiscal policies and image, the announcements did not amount to much at this point, RFI reported.
“Too little, too late, after too much violence and contempt. See you Saturday!” wrote Eric Drouet, one of the self-appointed spokespersons of the movement, in a post to Facebook, referring to calls for a fifth consecutive weekend of nationwide demonstrations, Financial Tribune reported.
Some Yellow Vests who had gathered in public places to hear the president’s address also vowed to continue weeks of blockades.
“This is piecemeal. This is so we go home before the holidays, but we’re going to stay,” Thierry, a protester in the town of Senlis north of Paris, said.
“If he [Macron] had spoken at the beginning at the movement, it might have made a difference. But now he’s in a difficult spot. If I were him, I’d resign,” said Dominique, at the same gathering.
Others involved with protests saw what could be the beginning of the end of the impasse with the government.
“This is a start, but we need to see measures that are more concrete and stronger,” said another would-be spokesperson, Benjamin Cauchy.
Some protesters cited an awareness of their problems in the speech.
“The increase of €100, it’s really not bad,” said Erwan, an organiser in Rennes, to AFP, adding the measures for retirees would “give them a little more” and that “the end of the year bonus too, it’s very good.”
“There are some good ideas, it’s a mea culpa which arrives too late but we will not spit on it,” Claude Rambour, a protester from Calais, told the agency.
Pressure From Political Opponents
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will be in parliament on Tuesday to try and convince lawmakers that the president’s speech has met the demands of the movement.
The government is under pressure from opponents across the political spectrum to avoid a fifth week of costly and violent protests, and it will also have to elaborate on how the measures will be financed.
France will “surely have to widen its deficit” in a “strictly temporary” manner, said parliamentary speaker Richard Ferrand, an ally of Macron.
Opposition leaders sought to dismiss any notion that Macron’s announcements amounted to significant changes.
“Faced with protests, Macron renounces part of his fiscal errors, which is good, but he refuses to admit that what’s being contested is the model that he champions,” tweeted Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, formerly the National Front.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the leftwing France Unbowed movement, said his support was with those planning to demonstrate again on Saturday.
“All the measures he announced will be paid by taxpayers and by those who received social benefits,” Mélenchon said. “None will be paid by the wealthy.”
Other political opponents argue that Macron had made the necessary gestures for the protests to come to an end.
“There comes a time, like the unions say, for a movement to stop,” said Eric Woerth, a former budget minister in the right-wing opposition party Les Republicains, saying that Macron had offered “immediate and concrete measures”.
“I think it’s time to stop the blockades, to get on with life,” said Woerth, encouraging protesters “to consider what was said and done”.
"The reforms are expected to cost the government between $8.1 billion and $10.1 billion," Oliver Dussopt, France's secretary of state to the Ministry of Public Action and Accounts, told French television station BFM.
While Macron conceded that much of the anger that protesters feel is "just" and that people had "legit concerns", he condemned the violence that arose during the protests, including cars being set afire and property vandalized.
"No anger justifies attacking a policeman or pillaging a public place or shop," he said. "When violence breaks out, freedom is lost."
Macron added that the discontent comes from "40 years of malaise" but acknowledged his government has not been able to respond to it properly in the 18 months it had been in power. He said he assumed his responsibility for that.
On Monday morning, as Macron met trade unions and business leaders ahead of tonight's much-anticipated national address, French students took further action.
There were disruptions in up to 120 schools across the country, including 40 schools completely blockaded by students, a spokeswoman for the Education Ministry said.
The students were demonstrating against the government's recent education reforms, including changes to university admissions, which they say will be more selective.
The weekend's protests, which stretched as far and wide as the southern cities of Marseille and Toulouse, brought out 136,000 people across the country, the ministry added.
The protests paralyzed Paris, with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower closed to the public and some metro stations shut. Sporting events across the country were called off.
In response, around 8,000 police were put on the streets of Paris and tens of thousands more deployed across the country. Officers fired rubber bullets and hundreds of canisters of tear gas at the demonstrators, some of whom set vehicles on fire.
"The French retail sector has suffered a loss in revenue of about $1.1 billion since the beginning of the protests last month," Sophie Amoros, a spokeswoman for the French retail federation, said.
On Sunday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire went as far as to say the unrest was creating a "catastrophe" for the French economy.