Following weeks of civil unrest, French President Emmanuel Macron finally broke his silence and even took responsibility this week for the anger of citizens protesting out-of-control taxation.
“I may have given you the impression that this was not my concern, that I had other priorities. I take my share of responsibility. I know I have hurt some of you with my words,” Macron said in a pre-recorded nationally televised speech from Elysee Palace Monday.
Declaring “a state of social and economic emergency,” the French leader promised, among other things, an increase in the minimum wage, tax relief for the poor and the cancellation of a tax increase on retirees.
Speaking with a soft voice and gentle tone, Macron pleaded for a return to calm after almost four weeks of violent demonstrations that started in neglected provinces to oppose fuel tax increases.
“My only worry is for you. My only fight is for you. Our only battle is for France,” he said.
What initially began as a single-issue protest over a gas tax has since grown into an all-out anti-government rebellion known as the ‘yellow vest’ movement.
With skyrocketing gas prices and years of wage stagnation, many disgruntled working class citizens have been feeling the squeeze of an ever shrinking pocket book as the income gap with the wealthy becomes wider in France’s leftist, big government environment.
France’s Welfare State
The protests over the government’s brutal taxation campaign come at a time when French leaders feel trapped. Having built a welfare state France can no longer afford, the government has to keep raising taxes to fund it.
In a 2016 interview with CBN News, French free market economist Emmanuel Martin explained socialism has damaged the French work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, making people psychologically dependent on the state.
“Individuals cannot be responsible. They need daddy, the state, to do things for them. It’s terrible,” Martin said. “Because we’re not able to be grown-ups in a way. When you see those people demonstrating in the street they’re just asking for Santa Claus.”
Meanwhile, the unrest shows few signs of slowing with down.
In what’s being dubbed “Black Tuesday,” throngs of French high school students jumped on the “yellow vest” bandwagon, blocking the entry to over 60 high schools throughout France. They’re demanding the cancellation of Macron’s proposed universal national service – a plan aimed at promoting a sense of civic duty and national unity among the nation’s youth.
The first phase of the unpopular universal national service plan, due to be rolled out in 2026, includes a mandatory one-month placement with a focus on civic culture, the BBC reports. The second phase would involve a voluntary three-month to one-year placement in which youth would be encouraged to serve “in an area linked to defense and security.”
But students fear the reform measures will do more harm than good.
“There are many reasons why we’re protesting, but our anger comes from the same place as the yellow vests and the government has made some really destructive reforms. It’s in our interest to be on their side,” Louis Boyard, president of the UNL student union, told French media.
As Macron to continues to express sympathy for demonstrators’ grievances, he warns violence will not be tolerated.
“No anger justifies attacking a police officer, a gendarme, or damaging a shop or public building,” Macron said. “When violence is unleashed, freedom ends.”