French President Emmanuel Macron seemed responsive with the complaints of the Yellow Vest Movement protesting the high cost of living in the country. The president issued an apology in his uncharacteristically brief 13-minute speech to the French people in case they found his behavior arrogant or dismissive of their concerns.
He offered four measures to the problem in a firm and dignified tone. He said he understands that life is difficult for some people but without giving in to those who resorted to violent actions. He condemned the latter and said violence was rejected while emphasizing his influence and apologizing if he hurt anyone with his words. He also announced exemption of low-income contractors from taxes and raised the minimum wage limit by 100 euros, without being paid by the employer. He removed taxes on extra working hours, which was imposed by former right wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy and removed by the socialist Francois Hollande upon becoming the President. He said that he would not reinstate wealth tax as it did not benefit the needy and reinstating it would be disincentive for investors and increase unemployment.
Macron offered all that could be given in difficult economic situations. He even reversed the words of the finance and the labor ministers, who had earlier stressed that there was no room for raising the minimum wageRanda Takieddine
A compassionate leader
He promised to hold talks with various groups on the ground as well as their representatives such as municipality and syndicate heads. His speech showed that he is aware of the seriousness of the living conditions facing a large segment of the French people as he described the current period as a “historic time” for France. Contrary to his usual approach which often appears to be detached from the people; the President showed courage in extending an apology and backing down.
However, the reaction of the Yellow Vests protesters was mixed. Many thought the President responded to their demands and they said they would suspend their activity. Others, however, and they are a majority, believed the President’s response was not enough and described his speech as a gimmick and said that they would continue their movement till the end.
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In fact, Macron offered all that could be given in difficult economic situations. He even reversed the words of the finance and the labor ministers, who had earlier stressed that there was no room for raising the minimum wage or removing some taxes. He used his influence to adopt measures to satisfy the protesters. However, the protesters may resume with their demonstrations on Saturday as they still want more concessions, not only measures pertaining to the minimum wage but ones that pertain to the medium class salaries. They also want an increase in pension to cope with the rising cost of living.
They have decided to continue because they do not trust the promises of the ruling class and what it has been telling them for decades. Macron was elected because he promised that he would bring in reforms, no matter what opposition he may face. The French people had for years relied on the state to improve their living conditions. Now, the state seems incapable of improving them. Macron thought that reducing the tax burden on employers would create job opportunities and improve people’s purchasing power. This takes time, but the Yellow Vests movement will not be patient as they’ve had enough of the burden of taxes and rebelled.
Even schoolchildren have rebelled against the examination system. Other sectors of the populace are also mobilized and ready to act encouraged by the far left led and its leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who criticizes Macron day and night. He said that President Macron started by accusing those who committed violent actions, but did not say a word about the victims of this violence nor the injured security officers. Melenchon added that Macron had wrongly understood the times France is experiencing as he (Macron) thinks that the dispersal of some money would stop the protests. Melenchon added that his parliamentary bloc was not concerned with Macron’s measures because they did not present a solution.
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However, Gaullists supported some of the measures announced by Macron in his speech. Logically, Macron’s decisions should have calmed the protests, but the popular movement will continue and it may peter out when the labor, trading and tourism sectors get wary of tourists’ and buyers’ reluctance just before Christmas and of spreading gloominess across cities. Protestors want to enhance their purchasing power but this cannot be achieved overnight. Macron does not have a magical wand to do so, hence he is trying to improve conditions in France on the long run. However, the Yellow Vests protestors preceded him and will not wait.
Some politicians from both the extreme left and extreme right are taking advantage of this discontent. However, Yellow Vests protesters might themselves lose popular support in case their demonstrations cause more losses in vital sectors of the country which, every Saturday for four weeks, has been hit by closures of shops and neighborhoods and destruction and theft in Paris, Bordeaux and other French cities.
The protests are thus doomed to fail if they continue and they will only make life harder for protestors and others.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris.