French govt weighs fur­ther steps to pacify protesters

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

PARIS: The French govern­ment sig­nalled on Wed­nes­day that it was pre­pared to make fur­ther con­ces­sions to “yel­low vest” protesters, even rais­ing a pos­si­ble roll­back on a con­tro­ver­sial move to cut taxes for high earn­ers last year.

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron faces a cru­cial few days as he seeks an end to more than two weeks of protests which de­gen­er­ated on Satur­day into some of the worst vi­o­lence in cen­tral Paris in decades.

The “yel­low vest” protests be­gan on Novem­ber 17 in op­po­si­tion to ris­ing fuel taxes, but they have since bal­looned into a broad chal­lenge to the govern­ment’s probusi­ness agenda.

One of the fre­quent de­mands from the protesters, who are mostly from ru­ral or small-town France, is a re­peal of Macron’s move last year to cut the ISF “for­tune tax” which was pre­vi­ously levied on high-earn­ers.

“If some­thing isn’t work­ing, we’re not dumb, we’ll change it,” govern­ment spokesman Ben­jamin Griveaux said on RTL ra­dio on Wed­nes­day, say­ing the wealth tax would be eval­u­ated. Macron, a for­mer in­vest­ment banker, was heck­led late on Tues­day as he vis­ited a burned-out govern­ment build­ing in cen­tral France, hours af­ter a new opin­ion poll showed his ap­proval rat­ing at just 23 per cent.

The 40-year-old made scrap­ping the “for­tune tax” one of his key cam­paign pledges ahead of his elec­tion in May 2017, ar­gu­ing that such levies on the wealthy dis­cour­aged job cre­ation and drove en­trepreneurs to leave the coun­try.

Griveaux stressed that re­in­stat­ing the ISF “is not on the ta­ble for now,” but Equal­ity Min­is­ter Mar­lene Schi­appa said she would ar­gue to bring it back un­less the tax cut could be shown to be ef­fec­tive.

“The govern­ment has been too tech­no­cratic and took too long to re­spond” to the protests, she told France 3 tele­vi­sion Tues­day.

On Tues­day, Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe an­nounced the first ma­jor re­treat of Macron’s pres­i­dency when he sus­pended for six months a rise in fuel taxes sched­uled for Jan­uary 1.

He also froze in­creases in reg­u­lated elec­tric­ity and gas prices and new ve­hi­cle norms which would have hit users of old, pol­lut­ing diesel cars -- a bat­tery of an­nounce­ments tar­geted at low-in­come fam­i­lies. A source in the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said that “the govern­ment has not nec­es­sar­ily played all of its cards”, with more con­ces­sions such as a fur­ther cut in res­i­dence taxes pos­si­ble.

But ex­perts say they be­lieve the govern­ment has re­acted too late to the street protests, a reg­u­lar fea­ture of French po­lit­i­cal life which have re­peat­edly forced Macron’s pre­de­ces­sors into U-turns.

“When you leave things to fes­ter too long, it costs more,” so­ci­ol­o­gist Jean-Fran­cois Amadieu from the Paris I univer­sity said.

Ray­mond Sou­bie, an­other ex­pert on French protest groups who worked un­der for­mer rightwing pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, said that “the big­gest ques­tion is whether pub­lic opin­ion con­tin­ues to sup­port the yel­low vests.”

Full story @ time­so­fo­man.com/world

- AFP file photo

PROTEST: The ‘yel­low vest’ protest be­gan on Novem­ber 17 in op­po­si­tion to ris­ing fuel taxes.

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