Embattled French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday announced a series of financial measures seeking to defuse the “yellow vest” revolt that has triggered violent protests in cities across the country.
In a 15-minute televised speech from the Elysee Palace, a sombre-looking president told the nation, “I accept my share of responsibility” for the crisis.
The former investment banker struck a more humble tone than usual as he sought to address criticism of his style of leadership.
“I know that I have hurt some of you with my statements,” he said.
Macron stressed, however, that the protests by mostly low-income people in small town or rural France were the result of long-term problems.
“Their distress doesn’t date from yesterday. We have ended up getting used to it,” he said.
“These are forty years of malaise that have come to the surface.”
Among the measures Macron announced was a €100 monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year, for which businesses would not have to foot the bill.
The minimum wage was set at €1 498 a month pre-tax in 2018 and €1 185 after tax.
Macron’s government had previously suggested that any increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs rather than help create them.
But the protests, which have seen rioting in Paris and other cities and taken a heavy financial toll, are the biggest challenge for Macron since he came to power in May 2017 promising to revitalise the economy.
The 40-year-old centrist also announced he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners introduced by his government.
And he called on all businesses “that can afford it” to give employees a one-off “end of year bonus” which would be tax free.
In another move to appease protesters’ anger, Macron said he would do away with all wage taxes on overtime work.
Macron, who has been in power for the past 18 months, on Monday held four hours of crisis talks with government ministers, parliamentary leaders, business and labour representatives and regional officials.