PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron tried to reassert control over a nation wracked by increasingly violent protests with offers of tax relief for struggling workers and pensioners — and an exceptional admission Monday that “I might have hurt people with my words.”
It may not be enough.
Even as Macron broke his silence on the protests in a brief televised address, yellow-vested demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure on a man they see as arrogant, out-of-touch and “president of the rich.”
“We are at a historic moment for our country,” the French leader said from the presidential Elysee Palace. “We will not resume the normal course of our lives” after all that has happened.
Speaking with a soft voice and gentle tone, Macron pleaded for a return to calm after almost four weeks of protests that started in neglected provinces to oppose fuel tax increases and progressed to rioting in Paris and a long list of broad demands.
It’s a turning point in Macron’s presidency, and a crucial moment for both France and Europe. Macron rode to the presidency last year on promises of rejuvenating France’s stagnant economy and salvaging European unity. His credibility on both fronts is now deeply damaged, just as the EU struggles with Britain’s chaotic exit and as France’s protests have prompted copycat movements beyond its borders.
French protesters spent days demanding that Macron speak publicly about their concerns. After he did, they took to French airwaves and social media to dissect his promises. Some protest representatives have said more demonstrations will be held Saturday, following those in Paris that turned violent during the previous two weekends.
Macron responded to several of the protesters’ demands, promising measures that included:
• A government-funded 100-euro increase in the minimum wage starting with the new year.
• The abolition of taxes on overtime pay in 2019.
• Asking profit-making companies to give workers tax-free year-end bonuses.
• Slashing a tax hike on small pensions, acknowledging it was “unjust.”
One thing he didn’t do: restore a special tax on households with assets above 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million) that he had slashed last year. Yellow vest protesters decry the end of the tax and wanted it revived.
Overall, Macron unveiled no radical changes, and clung to his vision for transforming France. Yet his costly promises will make it even more difficult to boost growth.