Macron scraps French fuel tax hike amid violent protests

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PARIS | French President Emmanuel Macron ditched a fuel tax rise Wednesday amid fears of new violence, following weeks of nationwide protests and the worst rioting in Paris in decades.

Protesters celebrated the victory, but some argued that Macron’s surrender came too late and is no longer enough to squash the mounting anger at their president, whom they consider out-of-touch with the problems of ordinary people.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading ” Join us” as they stand by toll gates on a motorway at Biarritz southwestern France, Wednesday, Dec.5, 2018. The concessions made by French president Emmanuel Macron’s government in a bid to stop the huge and violent anti-government demonstrations seemed on Wednesday to have failed to convince protesters, with trade unions and disgruntled farmers now threatening to join the fray. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

Macron decided Wednesday to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an official in the president’s office told The Associated Press. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers the tax will not be included in the 2019 budget.

The decision has consequences beyond France, since the fuel tax rise was part of Macron’s efforts to wean France off fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gases and slow down climate change. Its withdrawal is both a negative shot to broader efforts to fight climate change and a warning to other world leaders trying to do the same thing.

The “yellow vest” protests started on Nov. 17 over the government plan to raise taxes on diesel and gasoline, but by the time Macron bowed to three weeks of violence and abandoned the new fuel tax, the protesters were demanding much more. Many workers in France are upset over the combination of low wages, high taxes and high unemployment that have left many people struggling financially.

On Tuesday, the government agreed to suspend the fuel tax rise for six months. But instead of appeasing the protesters, it spurred other groups to join in, hoping for concessions of their own. The protests took on an even bigger dimension Wednesday with trade unions and farmers vowing to join the fray.

So after nightfall, as parliament debated the 2019 budget, Macron’s government suddenly gave in.

“I have no problem with admitting that on such or such question we could have done differently, that if there is such a level of anger … it’s because we still have a lot of things to improve,” the prime minister told legislators.

Philippe said “the tax is now abandoned” in the 2019 budget, and the government is “ready for dialogue.” The budget can be renegotiated through the year, but given the scale of the recent protests, Macron is unlikely to revive the added fuel tax idea anytime soon.