The French government will Tuesday try to convince lawmakers and the public that President Emmanuel Macron’s speech met the demands of the “yellow vest” movement, even as many demonstrators said they were disappointed and vowed to press on with their protest.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will detail for MPs the measures unveiled Monday in Macron’s televised address to the nation seeking to defuse the revolt that has triggered violent protests across the country.
Just after the president’s speech, many protesters announced their determination to continue their blockades and called for a “fifth act” throughout France on Saturday.
It would be the fifth consecutive Saturday of national protests since the movement started on November 17.
The protests, which have seen rioting in Paris and other cities and taken a heavy financial toll, are the biggest challenge for Macron since the former investment banker came to power in May 2017 promising to revitalize the economy.
Since then his popularity has fallen with critics saying he favors the rich and alienates people struggling, especially in provincial France.
Speaking before the National Assembly, the prime minister is expected to outline Tuesday the main measures announced by Macron: a 100 euro ($113) increase in the minimum wage and rolling back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners which were introduced by his government.
It is not yet clear how the measures will be financed.
Macron will meet Tuesday with representatives of the banking sector and the following day with big companies to ask them to “participate in the collective effort”, probably through tax measures.
The social measures announced Monday will cost “between eight and 10 billion (euros), we are in the process of clarifying it, to see also how we will finance it,” said Olivier Dussopt, secretary of state to the ministry of public accounts.
‘I share responsibility’
Macron’s speech from the Elysee Palace was presented as a decisive moment for the president.
A sombre-looking president told the nation, “I accept my share of responsibility” for the crisis.
The former investment banker 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.
Macron stressed, however, that the protests by mostly low-income people in small town or rural France were the result of long-term problems.
“Their distress doesn’t date from yesterday. We have ended up getting used to it,” he said.
“These are forty years of malaise that have come to the surface.”
Among the measures Macron announced was a 100 euro monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year, for which businesses would not have to foot the bill.
Macron’s government had previously suggested that any increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs rather than help create them.
The 40-year-old centrist also called on all businesses “that can afford it” to give employees a one-off “end of year bonus” which would be tax free.
In another move to appease protesters’ anger, Macron said he would do away with all wage taxes on overtime work.
Macron on Monday held four hours of crisis talks with government ministers, parliamentary leaders, business and labour representatives and regional officials.
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 agreed last week to cancel a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes — the spark behind the “yellow vest” protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.
But the move was seen as too little, too late by the protesters, who held a fourth round of demonstrations on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.
‘Yellow vest’ reaction
Reactions to Macron’s speech from the “yellow vests” were hard to judge as the movement is leaderless and has refused to come under the sway of political parties or trade unions.
Some protesters, interviewed on French television, acknowledged that Macron had made some “concessions”, but added that these were “insufficient” to call the protests off.
“This time, there really is some progress. My smile got bigger and bigger as he spoke,” said Erwan, one of the movement’s “spokesmen” in the northwestern town of Rennes.
But, for Pierre-Gael Laveder, in the eastern town of Montceau-les-Mines, “Macron hasn’t taken the full measure of what is going on”.
“Every one of his announcements was booed and the first overall reaction was ‘he thinks we are fools’,” Laveder added.