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Eye on France: How did the president do?

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking on national television at the Elysées Palace, Paris, 10 Decembre 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaking on national television at the Elysées Palace, Paris, 10 Decembre 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

Today's French papers are full of reaction to last night's television address to the nation by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who was trying to stem the tide of yellow vest anger.


The French press is not impressed.

Last night Emmanuel Macron boosted the minimum wage, took overtime earnings out of the taxation bracket, eased the pressure on some pensioners, asked bosses to give their staff an end-of-year bonus. He also admitted to having allowed a certain damaging distance develop between himself and the ordinary Frenchperson.

Twenty-one million ordinary Frenchpersons watched last night’s broadcast, that’s nearly two million more than tuned in for the last World Cup final.

“I realize that I have hurt some of you with my statements” the president admitted, going on to promise a more listening leadership, based on discussion with the nation’s mayors, those in contact with the day-to-day concerns of, you guessed it, the ordinary Frenchperson.

No change on the wealth tax

Then came the gifts and other concessions, with the clear exception of any change on the wealth tax. Macron says those measures are crucial if French wealth is to be re-invested in France, for the benefit of all.

At the end, it all got a little emotional.

“My only concern is you,” the president assured his audience. “My only combat is for you, our only battle is for France.” Those shifts from “my” to “our”, and from the two “you”s to “France” sums up the rhetorical cleverness of the man.

A polished performance by a man with his back to the wall

Business daily Les Echos was impressed by the presidential effort, suggesting that the remedy, relatively dramatic, was adapted to the gravity of the crisis facing France.

North-eastern provincial paper L’Alsace feels that last night’s proposals far exceed anything the yellow vests could have hoped for at the start of the movement.

Other papers have wondered how last night’s early Christmas will be financed. Some commentators see the bill for the whole yellow vest affair getting on for ten billion euros. The president has promised that the state will pay the 100 euros he has added to the minimum wage; the state will lose the tax on overtime; the state will have to make up the cash conceded to those on pensions of less than 2,000 euros.

A danger for the future?

Worse, Le Midi Libre warns that Emmanuel Macron is now condemned to accepting public anger as a permanent political force. “Even if he has managed to calm things this time by paying top dollar,” says the southern daily, “he won’t be able to do it every time.”

Communist L’Humanité doesn’t think Macron has gone far enough. And they dislike the way last night’s performance was organized to give first place to a condemnation of public anger with what L’Humanité calls “the accent of repression”. In fairness, the president can reasonably be expected to condemn street fighting and looting. And he was very clear to distinguish between legitimate protestors and the various violent elements who scrambled onto the blazing bandwagon.

Conservative paper Le Figaro is not convinced the French leader has done enough to make the yellow vests go away.

Left-leaning Libération is sure he hasn’t, saying in its editorial that “the movement, in all probability, won’t just stop from one day to the next.”

And what happens next?

As far as we can tell, there are still protest road blocks in various parts of France, and some secondary school students are still revolting.

Once again, since there are so many shades of yellow in the high-visibility brigade, and so many very different hopes and fears represented in the same multi-faceted movement, it's hard to see how Macron could have done much better.

For a real verdict, we'll have to wait till next weekend and see how many protestors feel they still have an axe to grind.

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