French PM Suspends Fuel Tax Hikes After Protests Against Macron Policy
France’s Prime Minister has suspended fuel tax hikes that have sparked widespread protests nationwide against them and other policies of PresidentEmmanuel Macron.
The French PM Edouard Philippe announced the move on Tuesday, following crisis talks at the Elysee Palace.
Stating the increase would be suspended for six months, he said: “No tax is worth putting the nation’s unity in danger.”
As he also announced that electricity and natural gas prices will be frozen until May 2019, he said: “This violence must end.”
A government source said the postponement of the fuel tax increase will cost 2 billion euros, around £1.7 billion, according to Reuters.
This comes as Mr Macron and Mr Philippe’s approval ratings hit new lows as the so-called “yellow vest” protests gathered pace.
Protests in Paris on December 1 turned particularly violent, with the Arc de Triomphe defaced and avenues off Paris’s Champs Elysees vandalised.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 have been arrested over the weekend, in what was France’s worst urban riot in years.
Dozens of cars were torched during the mass acts of vandalism which came with the uproar.
Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, while they shut down dozens of streets and subway stations to contain the frenzied scenes.
The first “yellow vest” demonstrations were held on November 17, originally to contest fuel-tax rises, and have since evolved into a broader protest movement, in part against the policies of President Macron.
The tax, which Mr Macron stated was to combat climate change, would have increased petrol prices by four euro cents per litre from January next year.
Petrol currently costs about 1.42 euro, around £1.20, a litre in Paris, slightly more than diesel.
The demonstrations held over the last weekend marked the third in a row where there were protests, both in Paris and elsewhere in France.
Three people have died from incidents linked to the protests so far.
Despite the expected U-turn, ahead of the official announcement yellow vest protesters said demonstrations would continue in an attempt to push for further tax reductions.
Benjamin Cauchy, a spokesman for the movement, said:“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb.”
On Tuesday, continued to block several fuel depots and many insisted their fight was not over.
Mr Macron held an emergency meeting Sunday on security after he arrived back from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
The government has not ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.
On Monday, French paramedics joined the ongoing anti-government protests, as the prime minister met with political rivals in a bid to ease anger following the violent fallout of the weekend.
Ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly while lines of riot police officers stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building.
Paramedics were involved to complain about changes to working conditions.
Prominent Socialist Party figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Mr Philippe’s decision on taxes but said it came too late.
She said: “This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged. We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from retirees. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede.”
Laurent Wauquiez, head of centre-right Les Republicains party, previously urged Macron to hold a referendum to end the crisis.
However, he did not say what its topic should be.
“French people need to be heard again, and for that we must organise a referendum to decide these issues. Only these measures will restore calm,” Mr Wauquiez said.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure had also urged the PM to drop the tax hikes and to restore a wealth tax, which was slashed by the centrist government.
“We want a change in the method. One needs to come down from Mount Olympus,” Mr Faure said, referring to Macron’s Greek god nickname of Jupiter.
Mr Hollande was then considered to be the least popular leader in modern French history.
Due to the protests, Mr Macron has postponed a trip to Serbia which had been scheduled to improve relations between the two countries.
“President Macron has asked to postpone for several weeks his visit to Serbia due to the situation in his country,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters after a phone call with Macron.
Macron’s office confirmed the trip would be postponed because of “the incidents that took place in the last protests.”