France's Emmanuel Macron is set to launch a new chapter in his presidency on Monday, announcing a spate of policy changes to be taken in response to the “concerns raised” at over 10,000 debates held around the country as well as the nearly two million contributions made online, the presidency told AFP.
The French president will go live on television Monday evening at the end of two months of public consultations triggered by the Yellow Vests protests. Two days later, Macron is scheduled to give a press conference to elaborate on his policy adjustments.
Every Saturday over the past five months, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Paris and other cities to protest policies they see as favouring big business and the wealthy elite, with most of the protests regularly ending in rioting and the destruction of property. The Yellow Vests movement, named for the fluorescent jackets the demonstrators wear, began in rural France; it was originally triggered by fuel tax hikes, but swiftly snowballed into a broader campaign against Macron's reforms.
Some 500,000 people participated in meetings and debates in community halls across the country from 15 January to 15 March, while others filled out questionnaires or offered suggestions on the official debate website. Macron, meanwhile, toured the country to engage local mayors and residents in discussions, promising the French people that his government would ultimately "transform anger into solutions". But as they returned to the streets of Paris and other cities Saturday for their 22nd straight week of protests, many yellow vests dismissed whatever he had to offer.
"Great National Debate, great blah blah," and "Macron, we expect nothing from your announcements" read some of the banners waved by protesters in Paris. Interior ministry figures put the number of demonstrators at 31,000 on Saturday, a far cry from the 282,000 that took part in the first protest, but up from 22,300 a week before. Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday: "He won't get a second chance."
Macron, admitting to failures, had unveiled a 10-billion-euro package of tax cuts and income top-ups for the working poor and pensioners and made an attempt to reconnect with voters as he travelled to rural part of the country. Nonetheless, most yellow vests boycotted the consultations, accusing Macron of taking off the table their top demands — including the return of a popular "solidarity tax" on the rich, which he had cut, as well as citizen-sponsored referendums. There was also a marked absence of young people from the process.
"We need to lower taxes, and lower them more quickly," Philippe, said. Another outcome of the debates was the revelation that besides the frustration with taxes and elites, ordinary citizens were impatient to have more of a say in the running of the country.
"It's double or quits for Macron," Le Journal du Dimanche opined on Sunday. "If he succeeds, he's back on the road to 2022 (the next presidential election). If he fails to convince, his capacity to carry out reforms will be jeopardised."