Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday the government would suspend planned fuel tax hikes for a six-month period in response to rising social unrest triggered by high pump prices and living costs. Mr Philippe said the government would suspend increases on three taxes scheduled for January 1. “This anger, you’d have to be deaf or blind not to see it or hear it,” Mr Philippe said in an address.
“The French who have donned yellow vests want taxes to drop, and work to pay. That’s also what we want. If I didn’t manage to explain it, if the ruling majority didn’t manage to convince the French, then something must change,” he added.
“No tax should jeopardise the unity of the nation,” he continued.
The suspension will be accompanied by other measures aimed at calming more than two weeks of protests.
Pressure has been mounting after demonstrations by the citizen-driven “yellow vest” movement sparked the worst urban clashes in central Paris in decades at the weekend, leading to hundreds of injuries and arrests.
Halting the fuel tax increase was one of the main demands listed by the “yellow vests” and opposition parties, although they are now saying that the measures are not enough.
“The French don’t want crumbs, they want the whole baguette,” Benjamin Cauchy, one of the movement’s regional leaders, told AFP, although he acknowledged what he called a “first step” towards a “redistribution of wealth in France”.
But the temporary suspension of the tax hikes “isn’t enough,” Mr Cauchy added, as he urged President Emmanuel Macron’s government to “cancel” the planned increases.
A moratorium on the next carbon tax increase “is nothing but a peanut,” Christophe Chalençon, another protest organiser, said; while “yellow vest” spokeswoman Laetitia Dewalle said it was “a first step, but a tiny step,” as she called on the government to put forward “more concrete measures”.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has been a vocal supporter of the movement from day one, said on Twitter that protesters wanted the Macron government to cancel the fuel tax hikes, and not just suspend them.
“I cannot believe that the government is limiting itself to this measure. It’s not possible,” she said, adding that the moratorium “falls short of expectations”.
The moratorium is “too little, too late,” she later told AFP: “It does not address the underlying problem … and proves that the government is still in denial.”
Former Environment Minister Ségolène Royal was a little more optimistic, but also said the government should have responded more quickly to the crisis.
“Better late than never. But this is a decision which should have been made weeks ago, from the onset of the conflict. We knew that the situation would deteriorate because we could see the rage, we could see the frustration,” Mrs Royal told Radio Classique.
The “yellow vest” movement – so-called because of the high-visibility jackets protesters wear and which must be carried in all vehicles in France – emerged on social media in October after months of swelling anger over rising fuel prices.
But it quickly morphed into a nationwide rebellion against rising costs of living, and tapped into a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards Mr Macron, whose economic policies are seen as favouring the urban elite over lower-income households in rural areas.
Many pressed the young president to cool off tensions after the running urban battles seen in the capital on Saturday, when dozens of cars were burned and shops attacked and looted.
Mr Macron made the decision to suspend the planned hikes late on Monday, after his government spent the day meeting with leaders from all of France’s political parties, including Mrs Le Pen.
The decision to suspend the taxes is the first time that Mr Macron has had to back down in the face of public opposition since he was elected to power in May 2017.
It is also a major body blow for a leader who has positioned himself as an unbending and driven reformer.
More “yellow vest” demonstrations are expected at the weekend, with calls for an “Act 4” spreading like wildfire on social media.