French PM announces new gilets jaunes measures

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe made the announcements this weekend

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has admitted the government “made mistakes” in responding to the gilets jaunes, and has announced a series of new measures to address their grievances.

In an interview on Sunday December 16, Mr Philippe conceded that the government had “not listened enough” to the French people, but said that he “shared their impatience” at the need to “transform the country”.

He said: “We have made mistakes. We have not listened enough to the French people. I remain convinced that they want us to transform their country. I tell them that their impatience is my own. We will continue to repair the country, involving them more and more.”

Referendum debate

Mr Philippe promised that a debate would be held on the idea of a citizens' referendum (référendum d'initiative citoyenne (RIC)) - one of the gilets jaunes’ major demands.

An RIC is a system inspired by Switzerland, where it is often used, and essentially involves asking the public to vote regularly on political decisions and Parliamentary texts, and giving representatives of each part of the country the chance to suggest their own laws if necessary.

Citizens can also veto laws or suggest amends. It is often known as a “popular referendum” or a “citizens’ initiative” system.

Mr Philippe said: “I do not see how we could be against its principle. Referenda can be a good tool in a democracy, but not on any subject in any conditions. It is a good subject for debate that we will organise everywhere in France.”

A February rise for low-wage workers

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the extra 100 promised by President Emmanuel Macron for workers who receive the Smic (minimum wage) would be funded by “a huge rise in the prime d’activité”, which would be received from February 5 2019, to “complete the January salary”.

Not all minimum wage workers will be eligible, it emerged, but the number of households eligible to receive the prime d’activité will rise from 3.8 million to 5 million.

The PM said: “All single workers without children will have €100 extra, up to €1,560 net in revenue. With a child, a single mother may receive up to €2,000 in salary.”

A couple with two children - of which one partner receives the  Smic, and the other earns €1,750, “will see their wages increase by €200”, the PM said.

Mr Philippe also confirmed that “using the prime d’activité [to do this] allows us to include independent workers and public servants whose wages are not much more than the Smic”.

Funding

The measures have been calculated to cost the State €10 billion. Mr Philippe admitted that the national deficit would reach 3.2% in 2019, rising slightly above the 3% threshold.

Funding will largely come from businesses, Mr Philippe confirmed, “to allow us to unblock an extra amount of €1.8 billion”, including the postponement - of a year - of the government’s previous plan to drop corporation tax from 33% to 31% for businesses worth over €250 million.

Another corporation tax for large digital businesses, known as GAFA - previously announced by economy minister Bruno Le Maire - will bring in an extra €500 million.

Mr Philippe said that the State would also endeavour to contribute more.

He said: “We will engage with parliament over the course of 2019, to get hold of our spending. When it comes to the 2019 budget, we will have to find €1 billion - €1.5 billion in savings.”

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