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Macron promises 'strong measures' to appease Yellow Vest protesters, but who will foot the bill?

Ludovic Marin / Pool via Reuters | French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special address to the nation at the Elysee Palace in Paris on December 10, 2018.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a raft of measures Monday aimed at placating the 'Yellow Vest' protests that have gripped the country in recent weeks. But, analysts ask, will this be enough to quell public anger and who will pay the bill?

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In his much-anticipated address to the nation Monday, Macron sought to respond to the "economic and social emergency" facing France with "strong measures", most notably a €100 a month increase in the minimum wage from 2019, an exemption from a recent rise in social security tax for pensioners on low incomes and the abolition of taxes on overtime pay starting next year.

'Turn to the left'

For political analysts, these measures represent a significant shift in policy from a leader who has been dubbed the "president of the rich" by his critics.

"The head of state has finally made his turn to the left," noted Jean-Marc Vittori, editorialist at French daily Les Échos.

But the shift was not limited only to policy, with Macron, dressed in sombre black suit and tie, striking a softer, at times contrite tone during his 13-minute speech to the French people, in contrast to some of his more defiant rhetoric of the past.

"This is an important point because Macron has been reproached by the French people for lacking empathy," said Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist and researcher at the Centre for Political Research at France's Sciences Po university.

Macron said he took his "share of responsibility" for the anger gripping France. He also admitted that "I might have hurt people with my words" in the past, which have included telling an unemployed man he need only "cross the street" to find work and suggesting some French workers are "lazy".

But his mea culpa was, according to Cautrès, the "bare minimum", coming with a caveat as Macron sought to "point the finger" at what the French president termed the "40 years of malaise that has risen to the surface".

Budget concerns

There's also the question of money. Macron's concessions come at an estimated cost of between €8bn and €10bn, according to the public accounts minister Olivier Dussopt.

With the just minimum wage hike equivalent to about €2.5bn, where will the funds come from?

"It will not be paid by companies," said Vittori, as "some small businesses would then be forced to reduce their workforce or postpone hiring."

"It will have to be added to the budget deficit," said Vittori, noting that a deficit is already at risk of "exploding the 3 percent limit" imposed by the European Union.

'Still work to do'

Among Macron's other announcements Monday came a promise to engage in a national debate with the trade unions, regional mayors and civil leaders. But while this may provide opportunities to bridge long-standing divisions, here too analysts foresee problems.

For instance, is Macron really best placed to spearhead such a national dialogue?

"He is clearly not in the best position to take on this role, since the head of state will be at the heart of the criticism," explained Cautrès. "An independent authority would be much more sensible."

The most important question though is whether Macron, faced with the most serious political crisis since the beginning of his presidency 18 months ago, has done enough to convince the general public.

"A dialogue has been started," said Thierry Paul Vallette, a Yellow Vest leader in Paris. "But the protests will continue."

"Macron's image has deteriorated so much that he'll need to take more action to redress the balance," said Cautrès. "He still has work to do".

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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