President Macron: Four measures to calm Gilets Jaunes

President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation in a 12-minute speech last night

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced four measures designed to appeal to and calm the Gilets Jaunes protest movement, including offering a rise in benefit payments and a year-end bonus.

Mr Macron made his official statement last night (Monday December 10), and said the country was in a “state of economic and social emergency”.

He said: "The events of the last few weeks in the Hexagon have deeply troubled the nation. They mixed legitimate grievances with unacceptable, growing violence. This violence will benefit no-one. We have all seen the game of the opportunists, who tried to use sincere anger. But no anger justifies attacking a police officer or public buildings.

"Our liberty only exists because each person is free to express their opinions, without fear of others' disagreement. But when violence happens, freedom ends. Calm and Republican order must now reign."

The President added: “We want a France where we can live in dignity from our work, from the beginning of the year.

"I do not forget that there is anger, and grievances, shared by many French people. I may have given you the idea that I had other priorities. I know I have hurt some of you with my actions. Tonight, I want to be clear with you...I only have legitimacy because of you."

The President spoke of workers "rising early and coming home late"; "courageous" single mothers who have no money or hope at the end of the month; and "modest pensioners" who have contributed to society all their life; and "the most fragile" members of society, fearing that they have been "forgotten".

The measures announced were specifically designed to appease some of the grievances of the Gilets Jaunes protests that have rocked France in recent weeks, and especially focused on the public’s buying power.

A rise for those on the minimum wage ('smic')

The first measure was a €100 rise per month given to those who are on the “smic”  minimum wage. This amount - expected from January onwards - includes the standard increases already scheduled for the years ahead, including €30 in April 2019, €20 in October 2020, and €20 in October 2021 (€70 in total). This will be given through the prime d'activité.

The rise was a surprise; on Sunday, work minister Muriel Pénicaud had said it was unlikely that the smic would change.

Overtime pay

The second announcement focused on overtime pay. From January 2019, overtime payments will no longer be subject to taxes or other state charges. This measure was already expected to come into force from September, but has been brought forward.

This was first introduced in France by President Nicolas Sarkozy, but had been removed by his successor, François Hollande. Last night, Mr Macron brought it back.

End-of-year bonus

The third measure was a demand from the President that “all employers who are able to do so”, should offer “an end-of-year bonus” to their workers. This bonus would not be subject to tax or social security payments.

The bonus would be a “one-off”, Mr Macron said, and only available to private sector workers.

Pensioner contributions

The final announcement from the President centred on retirement pensions. Social security contributions (la contribution sociale généralisée, CSG) rose from 6.6% to 8.3% in January this year, but this rise has now been cancelled for single-person retired households earning less than €2,000 per month.

The President did not specify exactly what the earning threshold would need to be for a couple to become exempt.

Mr Macron deliberately delayed his speech until last night, and waited until the latest weekend of Gilets Jaunes protests (dubbed “Acte 4”) had died down.

Reactions towards the speech has been mixed.

Some protesters say that the measures will do nothing to help the majority of French people, but a new poll taken after the announcements has found that 54% of the public believe that the Gilets Jaunes protests should now stop.

Yet, just 49% said that they "are convinced" by the President's measures, and 64% continue to support the movement's principles (if not the protests).

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