Macron feels protest heat
French leader Emmanuel Macron faced growing pressure on Monday to find a way out of the worst crisis of his presidency after shocking scenes of rioting in Paris at the weekend.
As more than 100 people prepared to appear in court over the worst clashes in central Paris in decades on Saturday, Macron’s government was preparing its response.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who cancelled a scheduled trip to Poland, was set to meet the heads of the main political parties, many of whom sense opportunities in Macron’s woes.
But the 40-year-old president appeared determined not to roll back the unpopular hikes in fuel tax which have sparked the protests, or announce state handouts for poor families.
“Thinking that, as we have always done for 30 years, you make a little symbolic gesture and then we sweep the dust under the carpet, that doesn’t resolve the fundamental, structural problem,” government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said.
The protests erupted over fuel taxes but have since morphed into a wider wave of resistance to Macron’s economic reforms, with a third round of demonstrations called for Saturday in Paris.
Immediately after coming to power in May 2017, Macron pushed through tax cuts for entrepreneurs and high-earners – policies that have become a lightning rod for anger among the so-called “gilets jaunes” or “yellow vests”.
Jacline Mouraud, one of the protest movement’s prime instigators, said scrapping the fuel tax was a prerequisite for any discussion with the government.
After his meeting with political rivals on Monday, Philippe was set to hold talks with representatives of the “yellow vests” on Tuesday.
He would then announce measures aimed at taking the heat out of the protests, his office said.
Amid criticism of policing methods on Saturday that saw dozens of cars torched and shops vandalised, the government ruled out imposing a state of emergency which had been mooted.
Deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez said that emergency measures were one option, among others – but it was not on the table for now.