French President Emmanuel Macron has scrapped a fuel tax rise amid fears of fresh violence after weeks of nationwide protests and the worst rioting Paris has seen in decades.
Protesters are celebrating the victory but some say Macron’s surrender came too late and is no longer enough to quell the mounting anger at their president, whom they consider out-of-touch with the problems of ordinary people.
Macron decided on Wednesday to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an official in the president’s office told the Associated Press.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed to MPs that the tax is no longer included in the 2019 budget.
The decision has ramifications beyond France, since the fuel tax rise was part of Macron’s efforts to wean France off fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change.
Its withdrawal is a blow to broader efforts to fight climate change and a warning to other world leaders trying to do the same thing.
The “yellow vest” protests began on November 17 over the government plan to raise taxes on diesel and petrol but by the time Macron bowed to three weeks of violence and abandoned the new fuel tax, the protesters were demanding much more.
The vests, which all motorists are obliged by law to carry in their cars in the event of a mechanical breakdown, became the visible symbol of the revolt.
Many workers in France are angry over the combination of low wages, high taxes and high unemployment that have left many people struggling.
On Tuesday, the government agreed to suspend the fuel tax rise for six months but instead of appeasing the protesters, it spurred other groups to join in, hoping for concessions of their own.
The protests took on an even bigger dimension on Wednesday, with trade unions and farmers vowing to join the fray.
So after nightfall, as parliament debated the 2019 budget, Macron’s government gave in.
“I have no problem with admitting that on such or such question we could have done differently, that if there is such a level of anger … it’s because we still have a lot of things to improve,” the prime minister told MPs.
Philippe said “the tax is now abandoned” in the 2019 budget and the government was “ready for dialogue”.
The budget can be renegotiated through the year but given the scale of the recent protests, Macron is unlikely to revive the added fuel tax idea soon.
Jacline Mouraud, one of the self-proclaimed spokespeople for the disparate yellow vest movement, said Macron’s concession “comes much too late, unfortunately”.
“It’s on the right path but in my opinion it will not fundamentally change the movement,” she said.
Three weeks of protests have left four people dead, hundreds injured and central Paris littered with burned cars and shattered windows.