Europe Politics

France's Macron expected to promise change amid riots and 'economic catastrophe' — but is it too late?

Key Points
  • French President Emmanuel Macron is due to address the country Monday evening.
  • There were more violent protests in Paris and other French cities again at the weekend.
  • The protests started as a demonstration against Macron's carbon tax policy but they have morphed into wider anti-government protests.
VIDEO1:2001:20
France's 'yellow vest' protests become economic disaster, costing about $1 billion to retailers

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to address the country Monday evening amid ongoing violent protests that hit Paris and other French cities again at the weekend.

Macron's presidency is in crisis following weeks over high-profile and dramatic demonstrations by "yellow-vest" protesters that have caused havoc across France.

The protests started as a demonstration against Macron's carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases but they have morphed into wider anti-government protests and discontent at Macron's leadership, rising living costs, his economic reforms and what many protesters say is Macron's neglect of the working and middle-classes.

The president is expected to make an announcement on Monday evening (at 19:00 London time) regarding the government's response to the protests, with expectations that he could announce new economic measures aimed at addressing negative public sentiment towards his reforms. But beyond that there is no indication what the statement will contain or whether it will be enough to placate demonstrators.

A protester waves a French flag during clashes with police at a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. 
Benoit Tessier | Reuters

One coordinator of the "yellow vest" protests, Thierry Paul Valette, told reporters on Saturday that Macron's announcement would be too little, too late.

"(Macron) must provide answers. They are late, unfortunately, they are late and the reality is that when he presents these measures some yellow vests will go home as they will be satisfied, but right now there are a lot of people who simply want the president to resign. It's too late, the game is set and those people will stay on the streets."

The government had already said that it would delay planned fuel tax increases for six months but then later went further by dropping them from the 2019 budget altogether. Still, that has failed to halt protests. In the fourth weekend of demonstrations on Saturday, around 125,000 were estimated to have protested around France.

In Paris, 10,000 demonstrators were believed to have taken to the streets with some throwing stones, torching cars and vandalizing shops and restaurants. Over 1,000 people were taken into custody and 264 were injured (including 39 police officers), the Interior Ministry said in a tweet on Saturday.

Analysts predict that Macron will have to change political tack in order to address voter concerns.

"The question is how much, in the way of concessions, is Macron going to have to give to calm the protests down," Constantine Fraser, European political analyst at TS Lombard, told CNBC Monday.

"I wouldn't be surprised if over the next few years we see a lot more of a consumer-faced Macron, a Macron who focuses much more on standards of living and on disposable income issues," he told CNBC's Street Signs.

Economic catastrophe

The government has warned of slower economic growth as a result of the protests and Bruno Le Maire, the country's finance minister, said the protests were an "economic catastrophe" for the euro zone's second largest economy.

"It's a catastrophe for business, it's a catastrophe for our economy," he said Sunday as he visited shops that had been damaged in Paris. He said the state would show the "greatest firmness" towards vandals and looters.

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Macron needs to come up with some clear adjustments: Analyst

On Monday, Le Maire tweeted that the current protests would cost France 0.1 percentage point of quarterly economic growth. France grew 0.4 percent in the third quarter from the previous quarter.

France's neighbors are also watching closely to see what happens next as Macron had been seen as a political figurehead for Europe alongside Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While Brussels has witnessed copycat protests, Italy's leadership has sought to make political capital from the protests with Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini saying Macron was to blame for the protests.

Turkey has said France was hypocritical for criticizing Turkey for human rights abuses when French police had used water cannon and tear gas on protestors in Paris.