Macron takes action to quell riots

That was the headline on the French evening news.

The answer to that question is crucial to the future of Emmanuel Macron and his government.

Specifically, is its concession to suspend a rise in fuel taxes enough to defuse the unrest that has swept France for almost a month – unrest that is only gathering momentum?

Protests have spread to schools and colleges. In Toulouse, a fire began as students started protesting there.

The protesters are known as “gilets jaunes”, named for the yellow vests every French motorist must have in their cars for emergencies.

French people have been wearing them as they demonstrate against a surcharge on diesel and general squeeze in the cost of living.

Four weeks of protests have seen hundreds of people wounded and a number killed.

Throughout, the government had vowed not to back down, but by Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister seemed to be doing just that – suspending the charge.

But the unrest is mutating.

Its motivation has widened from the diesel tax to encompass the general standard of living under Mr Macron.

The man who won French elections in a landslide is seen increasingly as tin-eared when it comes to the concerns of millions of French people.

Dominic Waghorn

The tax may be ecologically desirable – but politically, its imposition has been tone deaf.

Its impact is felt most severely by those already hurting under the flagging French economy – the provincial middle class.

Booed as he toured the site of rioting in Paris, Mr Macron now has an approval rating below 30%.

The man who won French elections in a landslide is seen increasingly as tin-eared when it comes to the concerns of millions of French people.

They are motivated by the perception that the system now favours only the rich, the elites and the ruling class. Sound familiar?

Authorities are braced for more trouble.

After turmoil in cities across the country, France is nervously holding its breath, waiting to see if the government can defuse this crisis.

And it is not just France.

The rest of Europe is watching closely too. If the poster boy of democratic European liberalism, Emmanuel Macron, cannot turn the tide of populist anger here, it will encourage the same elsewhere at a time when the continent can least afford it.

Mr Macron insists his reforms will make France richer and restore its economy eventually. Can he make that happen quickly enough to retain enough support to implement them?

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