The French government yesterday backed down on planned fuel tax hikes in a bid to draw the heat out of fierce protests that have escalated into the deepest crisis of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. The concessions, coming after an earlier 500-million-euro ($570 million) relief package for poorer households, mark the first time 40-year-old Macron has given ground in the face of public opposition.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced rollbacks on fuel taxes and electricity price increases in a rare televised address after France was rocked by intense street clashes and vandalism in Paris over the weekend. “This anger, you would have to be deaf and blind not to see it, nor hear it,” Philippe said after more than a fortnight of demonstrations by so-called “yellow vest” protesters. “No tax merits putting the unity of the nation in danger,” he said.
Planned tax increases on petrol and diesel on January 1 will be suspended for six months, he said, while hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will also be frozen during the winter. Pressure has been mounting on the government after protests degenerated into the worst street clashes in central Paris in decades, leading to scores of injuries and arrests.
For weeks Macron held his ground on the fuel taxes, which finance anti-pollution policies but which critics say unfairly weigh on drivers in rural and small-town France. Rescinding the January increase -- three euro cents for unleaded and six cents for diesel -- was a core demand of the demonstrators, alongside a higher minimum wage and the return of a wealth tax on high-earners which was abolished last year.