Macron to announce response to ‘yellow vests’ after months of protests

Macron to announce response to ‘yellow vests’ after months of protests

Shaken by five months of often-violent "yellow vest"protests, Emmanuel Macron will announce a package of measures that couldinclude lower taxes and the abolition of France's elite Ecole Nationaled'Administration to quell the unrest.

The street rebellion erupted over planned diesel tax hikes butmorphed into a broader backlash against inequality and a political eliteperceived as having lost touch with the common person. Protesters clashed withpolice for a 23rd straight week on Saturday.

Macron's policy response is the result of a three-month longnational debate, during which he rolled up his sleeves on a weekly basis todiscuss issues from high taxes to local democracy and decaying shopping streetswith local mayors, working parents, students and workers.

For Macron, whose monarchical governing style early on promptedaccusations of arrogance among voters and contributed to a sharp drop in hispopularity, his first news conference at the Elysee palace will be crucial toregain lost ground with voters.

"He wants to break the image of someone who's stubborn andwho never listens to anybody," Arnaud Mercier, an expert in politicalcommunication at the Institut Français de Presse at Assas University in Paris,told Reuters.

Macron is expected to relaunch a reform drive that started witha bang with an easing of labour regulation in the first months of his mandatebut which was derailed by the protests.

The president wanted 2019 to see an overhaul of pensions –unifying into one myriads of different pension systems including deficit-riddenones at state-owned companies – and unemployment insurance. But little progresshas been made on these.

Instead, Macron had to pour 10 billion euros into raisingbenefits for the poorest workers and halting tax rises on fuel in the face ofthe yellow vest protests.

"It's also a symbol that he wants to launch the start ofAct Two of his mandate," Mercier said.

No Wow Effect

Macron was initially scheduled to announce the policy measures last Monday but was forced to postpone after a fire tore through the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, badly damaging a symbol of France's national soul.

Most of the policies he was to lay out have been leaked.

They included, French media reported, a cut in income tax,re-linking the lowest pensions with inflation, halting the closure of hospitalsand schools in rural areas, and abolishing the ENA civil service college thathas for many become a symbol of a privileged elite.

The Elysee did not confirm or deny the policies.

While the leaks may have spoiled the "wow effect"Macron was hoping for, it may also have given the 41-year-old a chance to gaugepublic reaction.

In a sign Macron has not given up on his reform agenda, he isalso expected to announce measures to make the French "work more",French media reported, a potentially explosive move in a country where pensionand labour reforms often push millions onto the streets.

Lawmakers in Macron's party did not rule out possible changes tothe 35-hour working week or the scrapping of a bank holiday to fund measures tohelp take care of older people.

"There should be no disavowal of the first part of themandate, but there should be no stubbornness either," Sibeth Ndiaye, thegovernment's spokeswoman, told reporters.

The leaked reforms were met with underwhelming reactions fromprominent "yellow vest" figures and political opponents.

"We'll surely have a lot of things to say after thepredictable disappointment from Macron's announcements, if the leaks in themedia are any guide," Sophie Tissier, a high profile "yellowvest" figure, told BFM TV. 

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