French President Emmanuel Macron has not only backed down from his government’s decision to raise the gas tax starting next January but also offered wage hikes and tax cuts for the French people.
In his first media appearance in weeks, according to The Washington Times, Macron on Monday seemed to surrender to the demands of the “yellow vest” movement, so called because of the trademark fluorescent yellow vests, required in French cars, that they’ve worn during the protests.
“There is anger, anger and indignation that many French share,” he said in pre-recorded remarks, according to The New York Times.
“We probably have not been able for a year and a half to bring quick enough and strong enough responses,” Macron told the French.
Macron has been criticized by the yellow vest movement and others for being unresponsive to the needs of the middle class, instead being a president of and for the elite; the proposed gas tax, a measure to reduce carbon emissions, was seen as being emblematic of this.
In his speech, Macron made sure to sympathize with “the couple who earn salaries that do not finish the month, and who get up every day early and come home late” and “the single mother, a widow, a divorcée” who felt they have “no more hope.”
Macron told the French that beginning in January, he would supplement $115 to French workers making the minimum wage in January and promised overtime would no longer be taxed.
Retirees making less than $2,270 a month also wouldn’t be subject to a proposed tax increase.
He also called on employers to help people before the new measures took effect.
“I would ask all employers who can, pay an end-of-year bonus to their employees,” Macron said.
Will that be enough, though?
Agence France-Presse reported that some of the reactions among yellow vest protesters included “(n)onsense,” “a charade,” “a bluff” and “a drop in the ocean.”
“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,” Jean-Marc, a car mechanic, told the news agency.
“It’s just window dressing, for the media, some trivial measures, it almost seems like a provocation,” Thierry, a 55-year-old bike mechanic, said. “All this is cinema, it doesn’t tackle the problems of substance.”
“Maybe if Macron had made this speech three weeks ago, it would have calmed the movement, but now it’s too late,” Gaetan, 34, said after the speech. “For us, this speech is nonsense.”
The protests came over a gas tax that was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Macron government’s carbon reduction policy. After the unrest over the proposal grew, the government abandoned the tax last week — although that did little to quell the protests, which had grown in scope to encompass a working-class disillusionment with the French president and his government.
Many of the issues have to do with Macron’s policy making it easier for businesses to hire and fire individuals as well as corporate tax cuts. However, the government has done little to address cost-of-living issues or job growth.
The larger issue here, of course, is the fact that this is what happens when governments try to impose their will on a populace that isn’t terribly eager to accept that. While Macron may have swept into office with a mandate 19 months ago, it’s become clear that mandate has evaporated, particularly with popularity ratings that need to be measured with an electron microscope. Three-quarters of the French people agree with the yellow vests’ cause.
Even with this, Macron decided to go along with a punitive gas tax that played well with his urban, urbane base while further alienating the suburban and rural voters who were already disenchanted with him.
If Macron is to turn this ship around — and we’ve seen little indication he has the capacity to do so, judging by recent events — he needs to remember that injustices by the political class will be met with resistance like this, whether it be in Paris, Washington or anywhere in the world.
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