The French government, via its Prime Minister Eduard Philippe, has promised to halt (or at least delay for six months until a debate can be held) the fuel taxes foreseen for 1 January 2019, a move seen as giving in to the ‘yellow vest’ protesters after the country experienced the worst rioting since the student uprising of 1968.
Prime Minister Philippe announced the measures in a nationwide address together with other members of parliament from the ruling party of President Macron, La Republique en Marche, stating: "The French people who have put on yellow vests love their country. We share those values."
But the Prime Minister also urged the violence to stop: "the main role of the state is to guarantee public order but we must fight against anything that endangers the unity of the nation."
He explained that the six-month suspension would be applied not only to fuel tax increases, but also to planned hikes in electricity and gas prices and even to strict vehicle emissions controls.
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The opposition parties in France have immediately demanded that Mr Macron’s government would scrap the tax altogether as a delay could lead to more massive street protest again in the spring of 2019.
The move is seen as a weakening of the French government of President Macron as those who oppose his future measures now know that they only have to protest violently in Paris for a few Saturdays on end in order to get what they want.
On the other hand, Macron was left with few reasonable choices at this point. With tourism bookings for Paris down 50%, restaurants losing 20 to 40% of their bookings, and his popularity polls in the low twenties, the French President either had to give in or slam down the protesters.
After even some of his own police forces started questioning the measures instructed by his (inexperienced) government, President Macron could be a sitting duck for the next years to come.
The problem is that he now admits to do what he has vowed to fight against when he was elected. He is seen as capitulating to street protest, a measure of protest France is known for, and something President Macron had previously vowed to stop.
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