Macron's measures jeered by 'yellow vest' protesters

French President Emmanuel Macron doesn't know yet if his concessions will quell the anti-government protests that have gripped France. Blowing a multi-billion euro hole in his budget that could set Paris on a collision course with Brussels.
Protesters in yellow vests watching French President Emmanuel Macron on a TV screen at the motorway toll booth in La Ciotat, near Marseille, on Monday. The President's popularity has fallen since he came to power in May last year, with critics saying
Protesters in yellow vests watching French President Emmanuel Macron on a TV screen at the motorway toll booth in La Ciotat, near Marseille, on Monday. The President's popularity has fallen since he came to power in May last year, with critics saying he favours the rich.PHOTO: REUTERS

French leader's plans, including higher minimum wage and tax cuts, seen as 'crumbs'

LE BOULOU (France) • Groups of "yellow vest" protesters across France responded scathingly to the "crumbs" offered by President Emmanuel Macron in a speech intended to defuse their revolt, but others acknowledged his efforts.

"Nonsense", "a charade", "a bluff" and "a drop in the ocean" were among the immediate reactions that greeted the head of state's televised speech on Monday evening announcing an increase in the minimum wage and a range of other financial measures.

At a roundabout in the southern town of Le Boulou, some 150 "yellow vests" gathered around a loudspeaker listened carefully to the President's words before starting to shout in chorus.

"He is trying to do a pirouette to land back on his feet but we can see that he isn't sincere, that it's all smoke and mirrors," said Mr Jean-Marc, a car mechanic.

"It's just window dressing for the media, some trivial measures. It almost seems like a provocation," said Mr Thierry, 55, a bicycle mechanic who donned the yellow vest a fortnight ago.

The embattled French President in a 15-minute televised speech from the Elysee Palace, announced a series of financial measures seeking to defuse the "yellow vest" revolt that has triggered violent protests in cities across the country.

He told the nation, "I accept my share of responsibility" for the crisis.

INSINCERE

He is trying to do a pirouette to land back on his feet but we can see that he isn't sincere, that it's all smoke and mirrors.

MR JEAN-MARC, a car mechanic, on President Emmanuel Macron's speech on Monday.

He struck a more humble tone than usual as he sought to address criticism of his style of leadership. "I know that I have hurt some of you with my statements," he said.

Mr Macron stressed, however, that the protests by mostly low-income people in small towns or rural France were the result of long-term problems.

"These are 40 years of malaise that have come to the surface."

Among the measures Mr Macron announced was a €100 (S$156) monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year, for which businesses would not have to foot the bill. The minimum wage was set at €1,498 a month pre-tax this year and €1,185 after tax.

Mr Macron's government had previously suggested that any increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs rather than help create them. But the protests, which have seen rioting in Paris and other cities and taken a heavy financial toll, are the biggest challenge for Mr Macron since he came to power in May last year promising to revitalise the economy.

 
 
 

Since then, his popularity has fallen, with critics saying he favours the rich and alienates people struggling, especially in provincial France.

The 40-year-old centrist also announced that he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners introduced by his government.

And he called on all businesses "that can afford it" to give employees a one-off "end of year bonus" which would be tax free.

He also said he would do away with all wage taxes on overtime work.

He had previously vowed that, unlike his predecessors, he would not be swayed by street protests. But in an initial attempt to quell the revolt, now in its fourth week, the government last week cancelled a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes - the spark behind the "yellow vest" protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.

French government ministers defended the raft of new spending measures and tax cuts, signalling that containing the month-long "yellow vests" crisis will take priority over European Union budget rules.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2018, with the headline 'Macron's measures jeered by 'yellow vest' protesters'. Print Edition | Subscribe