Mixed reactions in France to President Macron’s speech

Reactions have been mixed after French President Emmanuel Macron made his “Address to the Nation” speech, designed to calm the Gilets Jaunes movement, last night (Monday December 10).

Published Last updated

In a speech watched by 23 million people, Mr Macron announced four key measures in response to the protests, especially in relation to buying power.

A new poll, taken after the President’s announcement, has found that while 64% of the French public continue to support the Gilets Jaunes movement, 54% believe that the protests should now stop.

Three quarters of people said they believe that the President’s measures - especially on overtime pay and on pensioner social security contributions - adequately respond to the Gilets Jaunes’ grievances, but just 49% said that they had been totally “convinced” by the President.

Some protesters have already spoken out against Mr Macron’s speech.

In Soumain (Nord, ‎Hauts-de-France), a group of Gilets Jaunes have said that the measures did not address their main grievances.

The group, which has been protesting on a local roundabout since the beginning of the movement on November 17, added that more Gilets Jaunes actually showed up to protest after the speech.

One protester, Johan, told the press: “These are crumbs. [Mr Macron] is taking money from the poor, for the poor. Workers with any measure of seniority won’t see any money, and will become minimum wage workers. And many places do not pay overtime.

“We are a long way from what the Gilets Jaunes have been asking for since the beginning. We no longer have any confidence in [Mr Macron].”

Many Gilets Jaunes blockades remain in place across the country, according to reports.

Union bosses appear largely critical of Mr Macron’s speech, including Unsa, who said it was unfortunate that the measures had “given nothing to public sector workers”, whose pay - they say - is often not much more than minimum wage.

Head of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, said that he had wanted bonuses to be mandatory, instead of the voluntary “if you can” measure announced.

Similarly, some commentators have said that Mr Macron’s apparent “increase” in the smic (minimum wage) payments is negligible, as the €100 rise mentioned includes around €70 of payment rises that were already due by 2020.

Others have questioned how Mr Macron’s government will afford to pay for the measures, with estimates suggesting that they could cost the State as much as €8-10 billion.

Transport minister Elisabeth Borne has today defended the President’s announcement.

She said: “The President of the Republic showed that he has heard the difficulties of the French people, and that he wanted to respond with immediate measures. The public expected strong measures, and that it what is important.

“They want work that pays, they want to live better, and get out of difficulties to make ends meet at the end of the month. Now, we are going to do the sums and see how we will pay for it.”

Ms Borne added that Mr Macron is set to hold meetings this week with representatives of “banks and large corporations...to ask them how they can take part in this improvement of the country’s situation”.

Yet, opposition leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of la France Insoumise (FI) party has called for further Gilets Jaunes protests, and said the President’s announcement does not go far enough.

But Karl Olive, LR mayor of Poissy (Yvelines, Île-de-France), has said that the new measures are “a good start” and condemned Mr Mélenchon’s call for more protests.

He said: “The country is in crisis, and this will not do at all. I think it is irresponsible to have political representatives who do not want the country to get out [of the crisis]. The Gilets Jaunes should be present, but at municipal elections. That is democratic expression - where they can be heard.”

Bordeaux mayor and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé has also said that “those who are calling for further protests” are “a danger to democracy” who “want to overthrow the principles of our law”.

He said: “Gilets Jaunes in good faith, who have real grievances and do not seek revolution, should take responsibility. I call on them...as they know that if they organise another protest for next Saturday, under the guise of “Act 5”, they are simply inviting hooligans to smash things again. That is inevitable. So, we must change the method.

“Emmanuel Macron has changed his vocabulary, in the way he is looking at the suffering of part of our co-citizens. I would now like us to move forward, and not continue towards a dead end, as we do when we organise new protests, which will cause nothing but violence.”

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France