Spotlight: Macron announces higher wages, tax breaks amid "Yellow Vests" protests

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-11 11:20:48|Editor: ZD
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PARIS, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Still grappling with "Yellow Vests" movement, French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday sought to dampen social roar via "an economic and social emergency plan," which involves an increase in minimum wages and tax cut.

In a nationally televised address, Macron reassured voters that he heard their "anger and indignation," and admitted that "without doubt", the authorities have not been able to give a sufficiently fast and strong response for a year and a half.

"I take my share of responsibility," he pledged.

Pledging to respond quickly and concretely to the social anger over the public's dwindling purchasing power, the president announced that people living on the minimum wage would see their salaries rise by 100 euros (113.52 U.S. dollars) a month as of January 2019 without extra cost to the employers.

He also decided on tax-free status of overtime hours, cut taxes for pensioners and end-of-year bonus offered to workers.

Meanwhile, he refused to review wealth tax, arguing that "going back undermines (the country)."

"I ask the government and Parliament to do what is necessary so that one can live better from his work from the beginning of next year," the president said.

Starting Nov. 17, the "Yellow Vests" movement developed as a protest against a rise in fuel tax which Macron claimed necessary to combat climate change.

The movement has since turned into a bigger uprising, denouncing a squeeze on household spending and high living costs caused by the president's fiscal and economic reforms, which they believed to favor the rich and do little to the needy.

Protesters have been gridlocking motorways and tunnel entrances and blocking access to shopping centers during pre-Christmas shopping. Some even asked Macron to step down.


In his first national address following the violent protests that plunged Paris into its worst chaos in decades, Macron tried to defend his leadership after opponents criticized his "Jupiterian" ruling way and stinging comments that make him sound arrogant and out of touch.

"I may have given the impression that I did not care about that (social anger), that I had other priorities," he said with a humble tone.

However, "I want to be very clear with you tonight: if I fought to shake up the system in place, it is precisely because I want to serve our country," he stressed.

"We are at a historic moment for our country. My only concern is you. My only fight is for you," he reiterated.

Macron saw his approval ratings fall again this month to 23 percent, hitting its lowest level since he took office 18 months ago, according to an Elabe poll released last week.

He pledged to liberate, protect and unite. However, his reforms of labor code and pension and plans to inject dynamism into public services and institutions and modernize the rail sector and education system have triggered fierce opposition that drew thousands to the country's streets in addition to rolling strikes.

Furthermore, he has been developing a reputation as a "president of the rich", especially after amending tax on profits above 1 million euros (1.14 million dollars) imposed by his predecessor Francois Hollande.

Seeking to encourage investment in real economy and create jobs, he maintained only the tax on real estate and cancelled that on other assets from jewelry to yachts.


Shortly after Macron's speech, mixed reactions emerged with pundits denouncing insufficient response and supporters hailing his concrete measures.

Benjamin Cauchy, one of the faces of the "Yellow vest" movements told France 2 television "in terms of substance, these are half measures. But, "we can feel that Macron has got a lot more to give."

For left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, the president expressed "good intentions" without proposing concrete answer.

"I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization," he said, referring to a new round of protests planned this weekend.

Marine Le Pen, head of far-right "National Rally" wrote on her twitter account that "facing the challenge, Macron gives up some of his tax mistakes and that's good, but he refuses to admit that it is the model he championed that is contested."

Meanwhile, supporters saw the other face of the coin.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire welcomed "strong measures" which he said were "needed to appease and meet the expectations of the French..."

Lawmaker Roland Lescure, said "it has been a long time since a President of the Republic had not been so concrete to announce immediate and effective measures to increase the income of the most modest."