France to suspend fuel tax increases after mass opposition protests, government says

  • PM Edouard Philippe said the suspension will be accompanied by other measures aimed at calming two weeks of nationwide demonstrations
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 10:24pm

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a suspension of fuel tax increases on Tuesday, a major U-turn in an effort to appease a protest movement that has radicalised and plunged Paris into chaos last weekend, French media reported.

In a televised announcement, Philippine said the planned increase, which has provoked violent riots, will be suspended for several months. He was also expected to announce other measures aimed at easing tensions, just three weeks after insisting the government would not change course and determined to slap the charge on French consumers.

“We have to give the French people a reason to come to their senses,” Philippe was quoted as saying earlier by Le Monde. “We will have a debate tomorrow at the national assembly, which will be followed by a vote, and then we will have a big debate on how we can devise measures to accompany the ecological transition. We must appease the situation for the French people.”

It’s unlikely Philippe’s announcement will put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris.

On Tuesday, protesters kept blocking several fuel depots and many insisted their fight was not over.

“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb,” said Benjamin Cauchy, one of the leaders of the protests.

Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe’s decision but said it came too late.

“This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged,” she said. “We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from pensioners. They should have withdrawn [the tax increases] right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede.”

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was “obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precarity”.

After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met President Emmanuel Macron and other ministers to try to find a quick solution to the crisis.

Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron cancelled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.

Students blockade schools as protests spread across France in response to Emmanuel Macron’s policies

More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend during France’s worst urban riot in years, with dozens of cars torched.

The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax increase and have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming Macron’s government does not care about the problems of ordinary people after he cut taxes to the wealthy and businesses last year.

The planned new tax was to increase petrol prices by 0.04 (US$0.05) per litre from January next year. Petrol currently costs about 1.42 a litre in Paris.