After more than two months of Yellow Vest protests against the economic policies of the French government, President Emmanuel Macron claimed that he too could be a ‘yellow vest’ if the movement stands for higher salaries.
“If being a yellow vest means wanting fewer parliamentarians and work being paid better, I am a yellow vest, too!” Macron said on Thursday in an attempt to align with the grassroots movement against economic injustice, which was born as a protest against the French government’s policies.
In an interview with several French journalists (BFM TV, Paris Match, Le Figaro) he described the Yellow Vests as a social and political movement without “a fixed claim and leader,” as well as saying that it has “mutated” since its inception and has been “infiltrated by 40,000 to 50,000 militants who want the destruction of institutions.”
Macron also spoke about the RIC – the “Citizens’ Initiative Referendum” – a referendum demanded by the Yellow Vests. It envisages popular votes being held to allow the French to vet government policy proposals.
He dodged a straightforward question by saying that he was open to the possibility of a referendum but, at the same time, he does not want the popular vote to invalidate the decisions of parliament.
What Macron did rule out was a referendum on a wealth tax, one of his most unpopular reforms for which he has been dubbed the “president of the rich.” But Macron said he was open about other proposals.
In a December interview with Les Echos newspaper that was published online, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe admitted that the government had “made mistakes.” Among these was the fact that it had “not listened enough to the French people.”
The Yellow Vest movement, named after the high-visibility jackets worn by the demonstrators, ignited in November over government-proposed tax hikes, but it morphed quickly into wider discontent with Macron’s economic agenda and a decline in living standards.
Thousands of people have been protesting on Saturdays and Sundays in Paris and other French cities, with some rallies descending into violence. Hooligans have frequently been seen destroying property and torching cars; while demonstrators have also blocked roads and clashed with police.
Macron’s interview comes amid a big debate in France about a controversial anti-rioting bill, which aims to crack down on the street violence that has marred the Yellow Vest protests. The bill primarily targets ‘hooligans’ who damage property. However, some MPs are also pushing for harsher punishments for unauthorized protests and people who cover their faces during demonstrations – a move that has been slammed as a “threat to civil liberties,” even among Macron’s supporters.
“I learned a lot from those 20 months. It scared me,” Macron told French media.