Macron scraps fuel tax hike amid deadly, vi­o­lent protests across France

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY SYLVIE CORBET, SA­MUEL PETREQUIN AND AN­GELA CHARL­TON

PARIS | French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron scrapped a fuel tax rise Wed­nes­day amid fears of new vi­o­lence, after weeks of na­tion­wide protests and the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris in decades.

Protesters cel­e­brated the vic­tory, but some said Mr. Macron’s sur­ren­der came too late and is no longer enough to quell the mount­ing anger at their pres­i­dent, whom they con­sider out-of-touch with the prob­lems of or­di­nary peo­ple.

Mr. Macron de­cided Wed­nes­day to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an of­fi­cial in the pres­i­dent’s of­fice told The As­so­ci­ated Press. Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe told law­mak­ers the tax is no longer in­cluded in the 2019 bud­get.

The de­ci­sion has ram­i­fi­ca­tions beyond France, since the fuel tax rise was part of Mr. Macron’s ef­forts to wean France off fos­sil fu­els in or­der to re­duce green­house gases and slow down cli­mate change. Its with­drawal is both a blow to broader ef­forts to fight cli­mate change and a warn­ing to other world lead­ers try­ing to do the same thing.

The “yel­low vest” protests be­gan Nov. 17 over the gov­ern­ment plan to raise taxes on diesel and gaso­line, but by the time Mr. Macron bowed to three weeks of vi­o­lence and aban­doned the new fuel tax, the protesters were de­mand­ing much more. Many work­ers in France are an­gry over the com­bi­na­tion of low wages, high taxes and high un­em­ploy­ment that have left many peo­ple strug­gling fi­nan­cially.

On Tues­day, the gov­ern­ment agreed to sus­pend the fuel tax rise for six months. But in­stead of ap­peas­ing the protesters, it spurred other groups to join in, hop­ing for con­ces­sions of their own. The protests took on an even big­ger di­men­sion Wed­nes­day with trade unions and farm­ers vow­ing to join the fray.

So after night­fall, as par­lia­ment de­bated the 2019 bud­get, Mr. Macron’s gov­ern­ment sud­denly said the hike was sus­pended in­def­i­nitely.

“I have no prob­lem with ad­mit­ting that on such or such ques­tion we could have done dif­fer­ently, that if there is such a level of anger ... it’s be­cause we still have a lot of things to im­prove,” the prime min­is­ter told leg­is­la­tors.

Mr. Philippe said “the tax is now aban­doned” in the 2019 bud­get, and the gov­ern­ment is “ready for di­a­logue.” The bud­get can be rene­go­ti­ated through the year, but given the scale of the re­cent protests, Mr. Macron is un­likely to re­vive the added fuel tax idea any­time soon.

Ja­cline Mouraud, one of the self-pro­claimed spokes­peo­ple for the dis­parate yel­low vest move­ment, said in an in­ter­view that Mr. Macron’s con­ces­sion “comes much too late, un­for­tu­nately.”

“It’s on the right path, but in my opin­ion it will not fun­da­men­tally change the move­ment,” she said.

Three weeks of protests have left four peo­ple dead, hun­dreds in­jured and cen­tral Paris lit­tered with burned cars and shat­tered win­dows.

The sweep of the protests and their wide sup­port by ci­ti­zens of all po­lit­i­cal stripes has shocked Mr. Macron’s gov­ern­ment, which swept to power just last year with over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties in par­lia­ment. In the last few days, Paris saw the worst anti-gov­ern­ment riot since 1968; French stu­dents set fires out­side high schools to protest a new univer­sity ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem; small busi­ness own­ers blocked roads to protest high taxes and re­tirees marched to protest the pres­i­dent’s per­ceived elitism.

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