Faced with fierce protests, Macron tested on whether to continue reforms

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt can be said that France’s turmoil has revealed the difficulty in pushing ahead with reforms that come with pain for the public.

Large-scale protest rallies against a fuel tax increase have been held one after another in various parts of France.

Some protesters got out of control and clashed with security forces, causing a large number of casualties. Given the situation, the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that the hike scheduled for next month will be postponed by six months.

This is the first time that the Macron administration has been forced to compromise on policy in the face of protests since it was inaugurated in May last year. Considering that tourism and other economic fields have begun to be affected, the administration probably made a painful decision to resolve the turmoil.

Protest demonstrations against gasoline and light fuel tax hikes have continued since mid-November. Regional residents, who cannot rely on public transportation and would suffer a serious impact from increases in fuel oil prices for their private cars, have also joined in the protests in Paris. Protests have spread not through mobilization by an organization, but via the internet.

Macron has explained that the planned tax hike is part of anti-global warming measures aimed at dealing with post-gasoline vehicles. It must be no easy task to win over people who consider a fuel tax increase as an issue directly linked with their livelihood. His administration is called on to implement finely tuned measures that take into consideration the possible impact on the people.

Unlike past French administrations that could not cut into entrenched interest groups, including labor unions, the Macron-led government has called for pushing through structural reforms.

Detailed explanations vital

His administration has realized such reforms as a labor law revision that makes it easier for firms to fire staff, a corporate tax cut, abolition of national railway employees’ privileges, and an increase in social security burdens.

It is commendable that Macron has taken the basic stance of carrying out even policies unpopular among the people, to shrink the gap between his country’s economic power and Germany’s.

Macron’s miscalculation could be that the approval rating for his administration has dropped from the 60-plus percent level recorded at his inauguration, to the 20-odd percent level.

The jobless rate has hovered at a high level of 9-odd percent and it is taking time before the results of his reform initiative emerge. Some people’s discontent that his reforms “favor rich people” has led to the spread of protest rallies.

Ultra-right and far-left groups are feared to gain further in strength by absorbing people who have been left behind in the prosperity brought on by economic globalization. To ensure stable management of his administration, Macron needs to listen to the voices of regional residents and explain to them the importance of reforms in detail.

Changes in the political landscape have been conspicuous in major European countries. British Prime Minister Theresa May has been fighting an uphill battle over Britain’s exit from the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has resigned as president of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party following the party’s setbacks in state parliament elections and thus has seen the power of her leadership fall.

Macron, along with Merkel, has been pushing ahead with the strengthening of EU unity through such efforts as promoting reforms in the eurozone. Macron will be tested on whether he can continue with domestic reforms, also from the viewpoint of maintaining stability in Europe.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 6, 2018)Speech


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