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Macron to address nation after violent fuel tax protests

Faced with violent anti-government protests in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday will announce new measures in an attempt to rally support for environment-friendly tax increases.

Macron to address nation after violent fuel tax protests
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire acknowledged the protests were about more than fuel. Photo: Eric Piermont AFP
Paris was counting the cost of clashes between police and demonstrators Sunday on the Champs-Elysées where barricades were set on fire, luxury shop windows smashed, and traffic lights uprooted. Some 30 people were injured and 101 arrested, police said.
   
The government blamed much of the violence on a small minority of “ultra-right” activists who infiltrated some 8,000 demonstrators wearing the yellow, high-visibility vests that symbolise their week-long protests against hikes in fuel tax.
   
Bruno Le Maire, the economy minister, acknowledged on Sunday that “the current crisis goes far beyond just a question of fuel”, adding that it was important that “work be better paid” to improve living standards.
   
“It is time to listen to the French,” he said on BFM television, suggesting that Macron, on Tuesday, would call for “grassroot debates” throughout the country on government policies.
   
Elysée presidential palace said Macron would make a speech next week on ecological transition where the French leader is expected to address the protests.
 
Opposition leaders have been quick to note that the protests, mostly organised by grassroot protesters coordinating by way of social media rather than by traditional political parties or trade unions, have won wide popular support.
   
“When a movement has the backing of three quarters of French people, you give them an answer, you don't just dismiss them as a gang of thugs,” Olivier Faure, the socialist party leader told Le Parisien newspaper.
   
Guillaume Peltier, a leader of the conservative Republican party, told Le Parisien it was “all too easy to stigmatise the 'yellow vests' … and equate their movement with that of a few unacceptable acts”.
   
Former investment banker Macron was elected on a pledge to put more money in workers' pockets. But the effects of his pro-business reforms on unemployment and purchasing power have been limited so far.
   
He has seen his popularity slide to just 25 percent, according to one poll a week ago, and the protests reflect broader frustration with a leader critics label as aloof and a “president of the rich”. 
   
Sunday morning, a number of protests continued, notably in southern France, where 'yellow vests' picketed the entrance to a motorway in Saint-Maximin and blockaded traffic in and around Avignon.
   
Protesters were also calling on social media for another national demonstration next Saturday.
   
The interior ministry said however that the number of protesters across France had dwindled from 282,000 on November 17 to 106,000 Saturday.
 
'Expect revolts'
 
Macron, who took to Twitter on Saturday, to condemn the violence and cry “shame” on those who assaulted or intimidated policemen, journalists and other citizens, was in Brussels Sunday for a short summit of European Union leaders on Britain's Brexit deal.
   
He was to return to Paris early to work on the speech he will give Tuesday on ecological transition, an opportunity which many politicians suggest he should use to announce measures to soften the impact of rising petrol taxes 
and restore public dialogue with trade unions and others on how to improve living standards.
   
“When you act like Louis XIV, you can expect revolts (…) The French back the 'yellow vests' because Macron promised them a new world, and they see that his policies aren't delivering — neither an increase in purchasing power, nor a drop in unemployment, with ever higher taxes and spending,” Bruno Retailleau, who heads the Republican opposition in the Senate.
   
The French “see environmental matters as an alibi for fiscal belt-tightening,” he told le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
   
The “yellow vests” come overwhelmingly from non-urban areas of France. They feel overlooked and penalised by policies they see as being pushed through by elitist politicians in Paris.
   
Many of the often low-income “yellow vest” protesters are particularly incensed at Macron's decision to hike anti-pollution taxes on diesel, while scrapping a wealth tax on the rich.
   
“I'm not just fighting against the price of fuel. It's about tax, what we pay,” protester Catherine Marguier told AFP near the village of La Gravelle in northwest France.
   
Previous rounds of revolts pitting motorists against government took place in 1995, 2000, 2004, and 2008, often when tax increases coincided with high oil prices — as they have this year.
   
A poll by the Odoxa research group for Le Figaro newspaper this week found that 77 percent of respondents described the current protests as “justified”.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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