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06 December 2023

Macron to set out fix for 'yellow vest' anger

Photo: AP


France's Emmanuel Macron aims to kickstart a new chapter in his presidency on Monday with a series of policy announcements based on a major voter listening exercise launched in response to the "yellow vest" revolt.

Macron will give a speech at 1800 GMT setting out the "first concrete measures" to be taken in response to the grievances aired at over 10,000 townhall-style meetings between January and March or posted online.

One of Macron's aides said that the country could look forward to "a new act" in his nearly-two-year-old presidency, marked by "profound changes" aimed at drawing the line under five months of often violent anti-government protests.

The task of trying to satisfy the many, sometimes competing demands emanating from the "Grand National Debate" will be a tricky one for the 41-year-old leader, whose reform drive was abruptly knocked off course by the yellow vests.

Summing up the weight of anticipation on Macron's shoulders Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday: "He won't get a second chance."

The yellow vest movement, so called for the fluorescent 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.

In January, Macron launched a series of debates to try to take the heat out of the protests.

Between January 15 and March 15, nearly 500,000 people took part in 10,134 meetings in community halls across the country, with hundreds of thousands more filling out questionnaires or offering up unprompted suggestions on the official debate website.

Macron, who criss-crossed the country to engage local mayors and residents in marathon discussions, promised the French at the outset of the process to "transform anger into solutions" afterwards.

But as they returned to the streets of Paris and other cities Saturday for their 22nd straight week of protests, many yellow vests dismissed whatever he had to offer.

Interior ministry figures put the number of demonstrators at 31,000 on Saturday, a far cry from the 282,000 that took part in the first edition, but up from 22,300 a week before.

"We need to lower taxes, and lower them more quickly," Philippe, a centre-right fiscal hawk, said.

Any move to offset tax cuts with steep spending cuts could bring the combative French onto the streets in even greater numbers.

"It's double or quits for Macron," Le Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper wrote Sunday.

"If he succeeds, he's back on the road to 2022 (the next presidential election). If he fails to convince, his capacity to carry out reforms will be jeopardised."

Making planet great, again

Beyond the frustration with taxes and elites the debates showed ordinary citizens impatient to have more of a say in the running of the country.

Philippe called it one of the "deafening" messages of the process and vowed that Macron, who is looking for a second wind ahead of next month's European Parliament elections, would respond.

The former economy minister, who campaigned on a message of political renewal, is expected to curb the privileges enjoyed by senior civil servants and former presidents - a source of fierce resentment among voters.

Presidential aides have hinted he will also push ahead with plans to reduce the number of national lawmakers, increase the number of civil servants involved in service delivery at local level and put a greater focus on climate change.