Sunday 20 October 2019

Macron offers sweeteners in bid to bring end to 'yellow vest' protests

Angry: Protesters watch Macron’s speech on a computer. Photo: Reuters
Angry: Protesters watch Macron’s speech on a computer. Photo: Reuters

Henry Samuel

Emmanuel Macron, France's president, decreed a "state of social and economic emergency" last night, offering a string of generous sweeteners he hopes will quell a month-long gilets jaunes ("yellow vests") revolt that has left his presidency on the ropes.

In a pre-recorded national address, Mr Macron said France was at a "historic juncture", and issued a mea culpa, saying: "I know that I have managed to wound some of you through my comments."

Acceding to several key demands of the "yellow vests", the president pledged to raise the minimum wage by €100 per month from 2019 without cost to employers.

Overtime would be free of tax and charges, he said, while businesses that gave end-of-year bonuses would pay no extra tax or charges.

Mr Macron also announced that he would reverse a new levy for pensioners with incomes of less than €2,000 a month.

"The effort asked of them was too great and not fair," he said.

However, many gilets jaunes protesters around France appeared unconvinced.

The 40-year-old centrist was under intense pressure to avoid fresh damage and bloodshed after successive weekends of violent riots in Paris and other cities that have resulted in 4,523 arrests and already stripped France of 0.1pc of GDP growth, according to its finance minister.

Meanwhile, thousands of gilets jaunes have been blocking roads and roundabouts for almost a month in an outpouring of anger over perceived high taxes for the poor and overwhelming accusations that Mr Macron is an arrogant, out-of-touch "president of the rich".

Last night, he stood firm on his controversial decision to partially scrap France's totemic wealth tax. To change that, he said, would "weaken us".

The president, who has become the least popular leader in modern French history after a dream start, said that the anger of peaceful protesters was "fair and can be our opportunity".

However, he slammed the "unacceptable outpouring of violence" of vandals.

"No anger justifies attacking a police officer or public property," he said. Mr Macron also made it clear he intended to push on with planned reforms of social security and pensions.

Despite a string of concessions before his speech, including scrapping the green tax on diesel and petrol that sparked the unrest, many protesters had already taken to social media to call for an "Act 5" of radical action.

Jeremy Clement, one "yellow vest" spokesman, said the proposals were a start and "coherent" but remained "crumbs". "We can't be content with a €100 rise," he said.

In one hall in Galargues, southern France, some pensioners applauded at the tax breaks but many said they would continue the protests.

Karl Toquard, yellow vest spokesman at a roundabout in Gaillon, Normandy, was adamant. He said: "There was nothing for us. We're staying put."

Telegraph.co.uk

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