French Government Plans Concessions To Calm Gas Tax Protests

20 hours ago
Originally published on December 4, 2018 12:16 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After three weeks of violent protests, the French government says it is suspending the controversial gas tax. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports it may be too little, too late.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Dropping the gas tax was the first demand of the yellow vest protest movement, which rose up in opposition to the tax hike. The gas tax was meant to help France transition to a greener economy. But that was a vague concept to the hundreds of thousands of protesters in the grassroots movement who could not make ends meet at the end of each month. Yellow vest protester Alain Flacon reacted on French television as he blocked a toll road in southern France.

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ALAIN FLACON: (Through interpreter) It's not enough. It's just the conditions to open negotiations. For us retirees, the cost of living keeps going up as our retirements decline. What misery the government is making for us. No, Macron has to go a lot further, and we are not giving up this fight.

BEARDSLEY: Macron initially ignored the yellow vest movement. The French president successfully pushed through his labor market overhaul last year when unions failed to mobilize workers for massive protests. Macron clearly thought he would succeed where other presidents had not. But the power of the French street finally caught up to him. Laurent Neumann, a political analyst for BFM Television (ph), says Macron had to reverse course for two main reasons.

LAURENT NEUMANN: (Through interpreter) The first was this unreal, unprecedented violence that we saw in riots over the weekend in Paris and other cities. And the second is the continued support of the public for the movement. Despite the riots, the French consider the yellow vest demands to purchasing power and salaries and to reduced taxes to be legitimate.

BEARDSLEY: Macron's persona has also played a role in the crisis. He has come off as arrogant and out of touch with the suffering of ordinary people. Political scientist Thomas Guenole says Macron is perceived as a president of the rich who has contempt for the working class.

THOMAS GUENOLE: So there is a kind of almost hatred against him as a person that is felt by more and more people.

BEARDSLEY: With the success of the yellow vest movement, their demands have now gone well beyond dropping the gas tax. They want the minimum wage increased and the price of electricity lowered. Despite the government's concession, there is still no end in sight to the yellow vest movement.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.