Macron promises higher wages, tax relief in hopes of quelling “Yellow Vests” protests

World Today

TV screens show French President Emmanuel during a televised address to the nation, at an electrical appliance store in Marseille, southern France, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged he’s partially responsible for the anger that has fueled weeks of protests in France, an unusual admission for the leader elected last year. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

President Emmanuel Macron is trying to end the worst political crisis in France in 50-years. In a nationally-broadcast speech, he pleaded for calm and promised to ease the tax burden on low-income workers and retirees. The address comes after weeks of the so-called “yellow vest” protests that have left four people dead, and hundreds injured. CGTN’s Elena Casas has more.

A new tone from French President Emmanuel Macron. Sounding humbled and apologetic, he told France he knows he’s made mistakes.

“I understand there’s a genuine anger,” Macron told the nation. “We didn’t respond quickly enough. I take responsibility for that and for offending some of you with my remarks.”

In a televised address to the nation, acknowledged that his government has been seen as dictating from Paris, and promised to visit mayors across France to hear their concerns. He also unveiled a series of changes: the minimum wage will be going up 100 euros a month starting in January,  taxes on overtime hours will be scrapped and low income pensioners will get a tax break. But he refused to concede to demands to reinstate the tax on wealth, insisting that the cut creates jobs.

“We will respond to the economic and social urgency with strong measures, by cutting taxes more rapidly, by keeping our spending under control, but not with U-turns,” the French leader said.

The president is looking for ways to end weeks of demonstrations that have already hit the country’s economy. Businesses are counting the costs of another weekend of violent protests. The Bank of France revised its growth forecast down on Monday, increasing the pressure on the president. 

On what should have been the busiest shopping weekends of the year in the run-up to Christmas, the French retail association says shops saw a 17 percent drop in foot traffic, and shopkeepers are running out of patience.

“It’s intolerable,” said Yann Boissart, who manages a wine shop. “It’s unacceptable to have this degree of violence at protests, and what’s really a shame is that some people are taking advantage of the protests to loot shops because the police are busy elsewhere and can’t intervene.”

The protesters say this government and previous leaders have ignored the everyday concerns of low income people for decades.

“People are showing that they don’t feel represented at all,” said sociologist Isabelle Coutant. “The demonstrators are showing a lot of defiance towards political parties in general, and this isn’t a new feeling.”

The question now is whether this will be enough to make them feel heard, or whether a crack has opened in French society that President Macron will be hard pushed to repair.