French President Emmanuel Macron’s government reversed course and suspended a planned fuel-tax hike that had sent as many as 300,000 protesters into the streets for three weeks in sometimes violent clashes.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the decision after detailing the plan in his regular meeting with governing party lawmakers.
“No tax merits putting the nation in danger,” Philippe said in a televised address. The measures he announced didn’t
include the supplemental increase in the minimum wage demanded by protesters.
The climbdown is a rare retreat by Macron, who has prided himself on sticking to his policies and ignoring his tumbling popularity ratings. He’s consistently defended the higher gasoline taxes, saying they are needed to wean the country off fossil fuels and have been compensated for by cuts to payroll taxes.
Even before it was officially announced, Members of Macron’s Republic on the Move saluted the turnaround, saying it would help calm Yellow Vests protests. Yellow Vests and opposition parties said it was too little, too late.
“It’s a first step that could have come weeks ago without all the rancor,” Benjamin Cauchy, an early organiser of the Yellow Vests, said on BFM TV. “But the French won’t be satisfied with just crumbs, they want the whole baguette.”
He said he wanted all recent gasoline tax hikes rolled back, and higher taxes on multinational companies.
Stanislas Guerini, the head of Macron’s party, said on RTL Radio that a moratorium on new gasoline taxes would allow a debate on France’s energy policies to take place in a “calmer atmosphere.”
Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally party, which has supported the Yellow Vests in hopes of capturing their votes, said on Twitter that “a moratorium is just a delay. That clearly doesn’t live up to the expectations and the precariousness in which the French people are struggling.”
The turnaround comes as Macron’s popularity hit a new low.