Macron raises minimum wage to appease Yellow Vest protesters

Ludovic Marin, AFP | Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special address to the nation, his first public comments after four weeks of nationwide Yellow Vest (gilets jaunes) protests, on December 10, 2018, at the Élysée Palace, Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday a €100 per month increase in the minimum wage from next year in a major concession to Yellow Vest protesters who have roiled the country.


In his first national address following two weekends of the worst unrest in France in years, Macron sought to restore calm after accusations that his political methods and economic policies were fracturing the country.

"We want a France where one can live in dignity through one's work and on this we have gone too slowly," Macron said on primetime television. "I ask the government and parliament to do what is necessary."

'Macron showed a much more humble tone'

The president's address came 48 hours after some protesters fought street battles with riot police in Paris, hurling projectiles, torching cars and looting shops.

Macron faces a delicate task: he needs to persuade the middle class and blue-collar workers that he hears their anger over a squeeze on household spending, without being exposed to charges of caving in to street politics.

'A few important measures, but no U-turn on wealth tax'

He said people on the minimum wage would see their salaries increase by €100 a month from 2019 without extra costs to employers. Pensioners earning less than €2,000 would see the recent increase in social security taxes scrapped. Other measures promised include the abolition of taxes on overtime pay in 2019 and asking profit-making companies to give workers tax-free year-end bonuses

However, he also said he would stick to his reform agenda and refused to reinstate a wealth tax.

"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," Macron said.

Act 5 of the Yellow Vests to play out on Saturday?

The self-declared "Jupiterian" president's announcement met with fraught responses from his political opponents, who have largely failed so far to tap
into the discontent from the leaderless Yellow Vest movement.

"Emmanuel Macron thought he could hand out some cash to calm the citizen's insurrection that has erupted," said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed.

"I believe that Act V (of the protests) will play out on Saturday," he said referring to a new round of protests planned this weekend.

One of the faces of the Yellow Vest movement appeared unconvinced as well.

"In terms of substance, these are half measures. We can feel that Macron has got a lot more to give," Benjamin Cauchy, who met the French leader last week, told France 2 television.

'Macron's announcement will play well with wider population'

But some observers said Macron's concessions might help him win favour among the general public. His speech was "contrite" and included "concrete concessions", tweeted FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor Leela Jacinto. "If #GiletsJaunes protests continue, will they have any credibility with the French people – besides the Le Pen, Melenchon crowd?"

Macron's announcement "will make a difference to some protesters" and "will play well with the wider population that supports them", added Oliver Davis, a professor of French politics at the University of Warwick, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

"I think, though, that for most protesters, anything short of Macron announcing his own resignation would have been insufficient," Davis continued.


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