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France

Macron to announce major changes to appease Yellow Vests

media French President Emmanuel Macron in his Paris office, 5 avril 2019. Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French President Emmanuel Macron will outline a broad new policy direction on Monday following months of town hall meetings across France in response to Yellow Vest protests. Macron will address the nation around 8pm local time.

.Macron’s office said the president will set out the “first concrete measures” to be taken in response to the grievances gathered online, written in ledgers and aired at over 10,000 town hall meetings between January and March.

A demonstrator holds a banner reading "French President Macron, we don't expect anything from your announcements" on April 13, 2019 in Paris, during a demonstration by the 'Yellow Vests' (gilets jaunes) movement on the 22nd consecutive Saturday. AFP/Thomas Samson

A presidential aide told AFP agency the announcements would amount to “a new act” in Macron’s two-year-old presidency, marked by “profound changes” aimed at dispelling the anger that has fuelled five months of often violent anti-government protests.

In response to the protests, Macron launched the “Great National Debate” by attending town hall meetings across the country and gathering proposals via questionnaires in an attempt to “transform anger into solutions”.

With the unrest still simmering, and as Yellow Vest protesters vow a large demonstration at this coming Easter weekend, the pressure on Macron to effectively diffuse the anger is high.

“He won’t get a second chance,” French Senate leader Gerard Larcher of the opposition Républicains told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday.

“It’s double or quits for Macron,” the Journal du Dimanche weekly newspaper wrote Sunday.

“If he succeeds, he’s back on the road to 2022,” the paper wrote, referring to the date of the next presidential election. “If he fails to convince, his capacity to carry out reforms will be jeopardised.”

Risky announcements about taxes

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe suggested some announcements would concern tax cuts, citing demands heard throughout the debate.

“We need to lower taxes, and lower them more quickly,” Philippe said last week.

Any move to offset tax cuts with cuts to public spending would risk stoking the anger that sparked the first Yellow Vest protests, which are currently drawing a fraction of participants as at the beginning of the movement.

Government figures say 282,000 took part in the first edition on 17 November, while 31,000 turned up on Saturday, even though that figure was up from 22,300 the previous week.

What began as a revolt against fuel tax and an unsympathetic image of the government has evolved into a broader anti-capitalist, anti-establishment movement calling for Constitutional reform and for Macron to step down.

Many protesters have dismissed in advance whatever Macron announces as an outcome to the Great National Debate, which is referred to as the “Great blah blah” in Yellow Vest forums online.

“Macron, we expect nothing from your announcements,” read one placard at Saturday’s demonstration in Paris.

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