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Somber Macron hikes minimum wage in hope of calming 'yellow vest' rebellion

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Somber Macron hikes minimum wage in hope of calming 'yellow vest' rebellion
Photo: AFP
21:50 CET+01:00
French President Emmanuel Macron gave a 13-minute speech to the nation on Monday evening in a bid to appease the yellow vest protesters. Among the measures he announced was a rise in the minimum wage and a cut in taxes for hard-up pensioners. But will it be enough?

Macron gave a somber speech that was pre-recorded during the day in which he apologised to those people he may have offended with his words and said he accepted his part for the anger that has risen in the country.

"I may have given the impression that it wasn't my problem, that it wasn't my priority. I may have hurt some of you with my words," said Macron.

Among the concrete measures he announced was a €100 a month rise in the minimum wage (SMIC) from January 2019 and a scrap on taxes and social contributions for overtime hours worked.

Macron said firms would not have to foot the bill for the increase in the minimum wage.

The minimum wage was set at 1,498 euros per month pre-tax in 2018 and 1,185 euros after tax. 

He also announced that the worse-off pensioners, who had accused Macron of bleeding them dry, would see a cut in social contributions to leave them with more money each month.

The cut in taxes would benefit those whose pensions were worth less than €2,000 a month.

He also asked companies to give an end-of year bonus to their employees, that would not be subject to tax.

READ ALSO: It's time for Macron AND the yellow vests to get serious

ANALYSIS: The revolution didn't happen but Macron and the 'yellow vests' must now get serious

 

"My only concern is you. Our only battle is for France," said Macron at the end of his speech that was delivered in a humble tone, as he sought to address criticism of his style of leadership.

You can watch Macron's speech in the Tweet below in French.

Macron did however refuse to bring back the fortune tax on the country's most wealthy, which had been the source of much anger. "To reverse would weaken us," said Macron adding that he would continue the fight against tax evasion.

Macron abolished the old wealth tax which kicked in when assets, savings and real estate totaled more than €1.3 million and replaced it with a wealth tax that only applied to real estate, hoping it would free up cash for the wealth y to invest and create jobs.

Many gilets jaunes protesters have demanded the old tax be restored but defending his reform Macron said: "The tax existed for nearly 40 years. Did we live better during this period? The richest left and the standard of living went down," he said.

The president opened the speech by condemning the violence that had taken place across France over recent weeks.

"No anger justifies attacking a gendarme, or a police officer," he said adding that he had given instructions to the government to be tough on those behind the violence.

But Macron accepted that behind the violence lay "anger and indignation" and "legitimate" grievances.

"This anger is shared by many among us, by many French people," said Macron.

"Their distress doesn't date from yesterday. We have ended up getting used to it," he said.

"These are forty years of malaise that have come to the surface," he added.

"Without doubt we haven't been able to provide a response that was strong or quick enough," he said.

'Radical yellow vests won't be convinced'

After Macron's announcements the question now is whether the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) will continue their protests. 

Many listened and watched Macron's speech at their road blocks on roundabouts around the country.

READ ALSO -  French police warn Macron: 'We're at breaking point'

(AFP)

Those interviewed by French TV suggested they were not impressed and vowed to continue until Macron resigns.

The problem as The Local's columnist John Lichfield points out is that many in the movement have become radicalized and are not prepared to stop because of a certain number of measures.

"Macron went further than many had expected, especially in ordering a six per cent increase in the minimum wage," said Lichfield.

"He tried, not entirely convincingly, to adopt a more humble tone. He may have done enough to peel off part of the support for the gilets jaunes and to end the widespread sympathy for them in the wider population.”

“The problem is that the most radical part of the movement has gone beyond the point where specific measures will satisfy them. They have convinced themselves that they are a popular revolt against the political and economic status quo.”

Even before Macron's speech more protests had been planned for Saturday in Paris. Those protests are likely to go ahead but the question will be whether or not the same number of people turn-out as in recent weeks and whether the hardcore 'rioters' who have tagged on to the movement still have their appetite for violence.

Macron, who has been in power for the past 18 months, earlier Monday held four hours of crisis talks with government ministers, parliamentary leaders, business and labour representatives and regional officials.

Macron had vowed that unlike his predecessors he would not be swayed by street protests.

But in an initial attempt to quell the revolt, the government agreed last week to cancel a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes -- the spark 
behind the "yellow vest" protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.

But the move was seen as too little, too late by the protesters, who held a fourth round of demonstrations on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.

The three-week-long campaign of nationwide road blockades and weekend protests in Paris and other cities, which degenerated into destruction and looting, have taken a toll on the French economy.

The central bank on Monday halved its fourth-quarter growth forecast to just 0.2 percent from 0.4 percent -- far below the 0.8 percent growth needed to meet the government's full-year target of 1.7 percent. 

Nationwide an estimated 136,000 people turned out for the protests at the weekend -- the same number as a week earlier.

Since the start of the protests, over 4,500 people have been detained by police in France, of whom 1,700 last Saturday, police said.

 

 

 

 
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Boggy - 11 Dec 2018 09:07
So who is going to pay for all this? Well, the small business that's all ready hammered by tax.
Mike - 11 Dec 2018 14:57
But Macron stated quite clearly that businesses will not pay for the rise in minimum wage. It is misleading for you to suggest otherwise.
Daniela - 11 Dec 2018 23:49
I agree with you, Mike. This "Boggy" person doesn't always know what he/she is talking about most of the time.
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