Unsatisfied in France: Muted Response to Macron Sales Pitch

By LORI HINNANT Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech Thursday at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The speech follows three months of national debate aimed at addressing the protesters’ concerns through town hall meetings and collecting complaints online. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has satisfied few of his critics as he tried to quell five months of yellow vest protests with a mix of tax cuts and attempts to bridge the gap between the Paris elite and the rest of the country.

With promises of a tax cut for 15 million households, an end to the closing down rural hospitals and schools, and the closure of the national administration school that has trained the most of France’s leadership — his own alma mater — Macron’s speech on Thursday was an attempt to meet some of the demands of the protesters who have shaken his presidency.

But critics on the left and right, as well many of the most prominent yellow vest activists, countered that his call for the French to “work more” and his refusal to reinstate a wealth tax were signs he didn’t get the message.

Thierry-Paul Valette, a yellow vest protest organizer, said Friday he was disappointed.

“He is still in denial of the social movement that France has been going through for the past five months,” Valette said.

The movement, visually marked by the fluorescent vests required for all French motorists, has ebbed in recent weeks. It remained to be seen whether Macron’s speech — and the perception of a refusal to change his plans for France’s economy — would give it new momentum.

He promised 5 billion euros in tax cuts for middle class workers — which his finance minister said would help 15 million households — but in exchange he said the French needed to pitch in.

“We have to work more,” Macron said in the nationally televised speech, citing statistics showing the French work fewer hours per capita per year and fewer years over their lifetimes than other developed nations.

“The difference in wealth creation is linked to our working less, compared to the Germans and the Americans,” he said.

Still, he said he would not make changes to the country’s 35-hour workweek, raise the retirement age or eliminate any national holiday.

He acknowledged that Paris, both as France’s governmental and cultural center, often seemed distant from the rest of the country and vowed to shift that dynamic. One proposal involved closing the elite National School for Administration, known as ENA in French. Graduates, who are known as enarques, include Macron — and many of France’s presidents and top government officials. Largely seen as an insular center of power, Macron said it had failed to evolve and would be closed “to build something better.”

But for many of the yellow vests, none of his proposals responded to their immediate demands. A snap poll taken after the speech indicated the French felt the same.

The sample of the Harris Interactive poll was relatively small — 807 adults aged 18 and over, with a margin of 2 percentage points — but found that just 7% found Macron’s proposals “very convincing.”

“We have not received satisfaction, and so we will continue the movement,” Valette said.

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