Macron to set out fix for carbon tax anger
AFP – French President Emmanuel Macron was to make a series of major policy announcements Monday in response to five months of nationwide "yellow vest" protests, in what has been billed as a make-or-break moment for his presidency.
Yet the task of trying to satisfy the many, sometimes competing demands coiled up in the protests will be a tricky one for the 41-year-old leader, who was elected two years ago on promises of sweeping changes.
His reform drive was abruptly knocked off course by the yellow vests, whose movement erupted in November over social inequality.
Macron responded by embarking on a major voter-listening exercise between January and March called the "great national debate", in which grievances were aired during thousands of town hall-style meetings and on an official website.
"We have decided to transform the anger into solutions," Macron wrote on Twitter. "For several months you told us what you think and we heard… (Monday) night I will respond to you."
The centrist will give a speech at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) Monday setting out the "first concrete measures", the presidency told AFP.
One of Macron’s aides told AFP that the country could look forward to "a new act" marked by "profound changes" aimed at drawing a line under the enduring and often violent anti-government protests.
Summing up the weight of anticipation on Macron’s shoulders, Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper: "He won’t get a second chance."
French media said the content of Macron’s speech could determine whether he wins re-election in 2022.
"Macron’s five years is at stake," said Le Figaro on Monday, adding that the head of state has "no room for error".
Left-leaning Liberation said Macron had to decide whether to side with conservative supporters or placate those demanding greater solidarity between rich and poor.
– Lower taxes? –
In one of the most important weeks of the president’s career, he is also due to hold a press conference at the Elysee on Wednesday, an unusual move for a man who has kept his distance from the French media. What Macron intends to announce has been kept under wraps.
He has much work to do if he is to convince French citizens outside his narrow support base that he really cares about them.
According to an Ifop poll published Sunday, 85 percent of French think that Macron should pay greater attention to their concerns.
One option Macron is examining is to curb the privileges enjoyed by senior civil servants and former presidents. Another is to push ahead with plans to reduce the number of national lawmakers.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who met Macron on Sunday, said last week that the clear message from the nationwide debates was that the French want lower taxes.
"We need to lower taxes, and lower them more quickly," Philippe said.
But while the Ifop poll confirmed that the French want to pay less tax, it also showed strong demand for increasing small pensions and providing better health services in rural areas, all measures that could jeopardise the government’s delicate budget balancing act.
– ‘We don’t need charity’ –
The yellow vest movement, named after the fluorescent safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began in rural and small-town France over fuel taxes and quickly snowballed into a broader anti-capitalist, anti-establishment rebellion.
The interior ministry estimated that 31,000 demonstrators turned out on Saturday, a far cry from the 282,000 that took part in the first edition, but up from 22,300 a week before.
Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, was caught off guard when protesters began occupying roundabouts to denounce policies widely seen as tilted towards the rich and big business.
Admitting to failures, he unveiled a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) package of tax cuts and income top-ups for the working poor and pensioners, and travelled into the rural heartland to try to reconnect with voters.
But most yellow vests boycotted the consultations, accusing Macron of prejudging the outcome by taking their top demands off the table from the outset. Those include the return of a popular "solidarity tax" on the rich, which he cut, and citizen-sponsored referendums.
In an open Facebook letter to Macron on Monday, Ingrid Levavasseur, a prominent figure in the protest movement, warned Macron not to "play the illusionist".
"It’s not charity, it’s investment the country needs," she said.