President Emmanuel Macron faced a moment of truth on Monday night during his first nationwide address since protests broke out across France against his government and the tax burden imposed by the state.
The speech, scheduled to be broadcast on French TV, saw Mr Macron break his silence over a crisis of civil unrest that has rocked France during the last four weeks. He has not been seen in public since the protests broke out.
He was expected to announce “immediate and concrete measures”, including possible tax breaks and an increase in benefits, according to government officials. Though there is no indication of exactly what the measures will look like, or if they will be sufficient to placate protestors
However, Labour minister Muriel Pénicaud ruled out a rise in the minimum wage – one of the protestors’ key demands – warning that such a move would kill jobs.
On Monday morning, Mr Macron between with political leaders as well as unions and business leaders to consult with them over potential reforms.
The meetings came as the Bank of France warned that France’s economic growth was set to slow to 0.2 per cent, down from a previous estimate of 0.4 per cent, at last in part due to the unrest caused by the demonstrations. French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire described the unrest as “a disaster for commerce. It’s a disaster for our economy”.
His president’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux acknowledged on French radio that the government had not taken the populations’ demands as seriously as it should have. “It is clear that we underestimated people’s need to make themselves heard,” he said.
He added that he was “sure that the president will manage to find the path to the hearts of the French and touch their hearts and talk to their hearts”.
Paris was worst hit by the protests, the demonstrators, known as the Gilets Jaunes – Yellow vests. Clashes this weekend left shops along the Champs Elysee damaged, and pavements spray-painted with various slogans, dozens of police officers were also injured in clashes between French police, and the yellow vests.
Protests also took place in Bordeaux and Lyon.
“It is difficult to give in on the margins while preserving the essential rules, knowing that the coffers of the state are empty. The president can not totally deny what he has done for eighteen months. That would deprive him of the support of the 20 per cent of French who still trust him " said political commentator Laurent Bodin,
Around 10,000 took to the French capital’s street on Saturday, with the Interior Ministry stating that police had arrested more than 1000 people.
The protests began in response to a newly levied carbon tax and further taxes on fuel, but quickly expanded into anti-government demonstrations.
Mr Macron also had to deal with criticism from across the Atlantic over the weekend as President Donald Trump weighed in, apparently linking the unrest to a recent climate change agreement. “The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France,” Mr Trump tweeted.
France also announced that it was investigating possible Russian support for the protests, after it was claimed that some 600 twitter accounts usually supportive of Moscow had tweeted in support of the demonstrations.
A Kremlin spokesperson denied the allegations.