Macron to kick-start Yellow vest talks

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron has called off a planned visit to the south of France in order to kick-start a major public consultation he has promised in response to the Yellow Vest protest movement.
Macron told reporters in Paris he had cancelled the Tuesday visit to Biarritz, where he was expected to discuss the G7 summit France will host there next year, in order to hold talks with ministers about the planned public consultation.
The president said it was a “normal re-prioritisation of my agenda”as he wanted to “finalise and clarify the rules” for the process by Wednesday.
Protesters wearing yellow safety bibs have taken to streets and blocked roads and roundabouts around France since mid-November.
The largely leaderless movement initially opposed planned fuel tax rises – now cancelled – but has since raised a wider range of demands including higher wages, tax cuts, and a constitutional amendment to allow voters to initiate referendums on policy issues.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets again across France on Saturday.
Their numbers were, however, sharply down on previous weeks,according to officials. In Paris, protests were largely calm, after violent clashes with police on previous Saturdays.
Macron has also promised measures to meet protesters’ more immediate concerns, including a 100 euro per month ($113) pay rise for low-paid workers and tax breaks on overtime payments, end of year bonuses and some pensions.
The government said last week that the national consultation would focus on four main areas, including housing, heating and transport costs; fairer and simpler taxation; democracy and citizenship; and the reorganisation of public services.
The list did not include immigration, which Macron had mentioned as a possible issue for the consultation earlier in the week.
Some on the French left reacted with dismay after the president raised the issue in the context of France’s national identity.
Macron’s remarks in Paris on Monday came after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed on Sunday evening that the total cost of the immediate concessions would be about 10 billion euros.
A series of tax measures and cuts to public spending would recoup about 4 billion euros of that cost, Philippe told business newspaper Les Echos.
The government intended to cut 1 to 1.5 billion euros of public spending, as well as saving 1.8 billion euros by delaying planned cuts to corporate taxes, Philippe said.
Another 500 million would come from a new tax on major digital economy firms, the premier said, confirming that France planned to put its own tax in place ahead of any agreement at European level. France got its deficit below 3 per cent last year for the first time. — dpa