Paris (CNSNews.com) – In an attempt to defuse at-times violent street demonstrations that have shaken France since mid-November, President Emmanuel Macron has announced four new concessions, but representatives of the protestors called the move too little, too late.
The economic measures offered by Macron followed an earlier government back down on an unpopular fuel tax which was a key part of its climate change agenda.
But a survey conducted just after Macron’s televised speech found that 50 percent of respondents said the president had not been convincing, compared to 49 percent who said he had been.
The same poll, by Paris-based market researchers OpinionWay for the LCI television channel, found that 64 per cent of respondent still support the so-called “yellow vests” movement. However, 54 percent of respondents also said the protests should stop, while 45 percent wanted them to continue.
In the speech, Macron announced an increase in the minimum wage of around $113 a month (which takes it up to around $1,392 a month for those working a 35-hour week) with effect from January, as well as tax relief on wages for overtime work.
He also announced that pensions below 2000 euros ($2,276) would not be subject to a government surcharge, and asked companies that were able to do so to give employees an annual bonus which would not be taxed.
The measures are intended to alleviate some of the grievances raised by protestors.
Macron declined, however, to accede to the protestors’ main demand since the fuel tax was dropped – a reinstatement of a tax on the wealthy, known as the ISF. The measure introduced by the Socialists was in place from 1988 until the government abolished it from the start of this year.
Nathalie Goulet, a center-right French Senator, said the only solution to fight the inequalities in society cited by the protestors would be to reinstate the ISF and combat fraud and tax evasion.
Last Saturday’s demonstrations turned violent as members of far right and far left groups joined the protests. Some broke shop windows on the Champs Elysee and adjacent avenues, erected barricades and lit fires. Police used teargas and blocked streets to keep protesters from exiting the main avenues.
Goulet told Euronews that the far right and far left activists, along with thugs from suburban gangs, had “only come to the protests to break windows and create chaos.”
Environmentalists have condemned the government’s reversal on the fuel tax, calling it a failure by a president who was seen as a climate change champion.
At the same time, analysts argue that Macron’s delay in addressing the protestors’ grievances also weakened his standing.
Political rivals elsewhere in Europe also sensed a damaged leader in Paris.
“Macron is no longer my opponent,” said Italy’s far right interior minister Matteo Salvini, whose views on nationalism and migration clash with Macron’s liberal approach. “He’s not a problem for me anymore. He is a problem for the French.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frequently criticized by France for his authoritarian tendencies, observed, “There is disorder in the streets of many European countries, starting with Paris. Televisions, newspapers are full of images of burning cars, looted businesses and the most violent response of the police against protesters.”
Further afield President Trump in a mocking tweet said earlier, “The Paris [climate] Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France.”
In response, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Trump not to interfere in France’s affairs. He also said that most French people were opposed to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Meanwhile Paris is bracing for a possible further round of protests this coming weekend.
Named for the yellow jackets which all French motorists are required to keep in their vehicles, the yellow vests movement has seen workers block roads and highway entrances as well as gas stations and shopping centers.