Macron vows tax relief and urges calm in bid to quell protests
The French leader delivered a televised address after almost four weeks of demonstrations.
Emmanuel Macron has broken his silence on the protests shaking France and his presidency, promising broad tax relief for struggling workers and pensioners and acknowledging his own responsibility in fuelling the nation’s anger.
Speaking with a soft voice and gentle tone, Mr Macron pleaded during a brief televised address for a return to calm after almost four weeks of protests that started in neglected provinces to oppose fuel tax increases and progressed to rioting in Paris.
“We are at a historic moment for our country,” the French leader said from the capital’s presidential Elysee Palace. “We will not resume the normal course of our lives” after all that has happened.
Protesters spent days demanding the president speak publicly about their concerns, but it is unclear whether the responses he offered will be enough to quell the dissatisfaction.
Some protest representatives have said more demonstrations will be held on Saturday, following the ones in Paris that turned violent during the previous two weekends.
Mr Macron declared an “economic and social state of emergency”, ordering the government and parliament to take immediate steps to change tax rules and other policies that hit the wallets of working class French people.
He responded to several of the protesters’ demands, promising measures that included:
– A government-funded 100-euro (£90) increase in the minimum wage starting at the beginning of the new year
– The abolition of taxes on overtime pay in 2019
– Asking profit-making companies to give workers tax-free year-end bonuses
– Slashing a tax hike on small pensions, acknowledging it was “unjust”
“I take my share of responsibility” for the anger gripping France,” he said, an unusual admission for a president accused of being out-of-touch. “I might have hurt people with my words.”
The centrist leader insisted the protesters’ “malaise” is as old as he is — 40 years — and coincides with France struggling in recent decades to keep up with globalisation.
He denounced the protest-associated violence that led to hundreds of injuries, more than 1,000 arrests and the ransacking of stores in some of Paris’s richest neighbourhoods.
Authorities will show “no indulgence” to those behind the vandalism and rioting, he said, adding that “no anger justifies” attacking police or looting stores.
The president’s long silence since the first protests last month aggravated that anger. Many protesters hoped only to hear one thing on Monday from Mr Macron: “I quit.”
He showed no signs of giving in, instead defending his political independence and describing his devotion to serving France. No presidential or parliamentary elections are scheduled until 2022.
Graffiti scrawled throughout the French capital singles Mr Macron out for criticism, reflecting a national sense that the former banker is arrogant and removed from public concerns, but he has appeared determined to continue trying to make the French economy more competitive globally.
Before his TV speech, Mr Macron met local and national politicians and union and business leaders to hear their concerns, but with no representatives of the scattered, leaderless protest movement.