France’s Macron seeks to review fuel taxes amid violent protests

French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledges widespread anger over fuel prices, but says he won’t ‘change course’.

Ecology meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris
Macron has faced public opposition to his so-called 'green taxes' [Ian Langsdon/Pool via Reuters]

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed reviewing the tax rate on diesel and petrol every three months to take into account shifts in global prices.

The plan outlined in a long-awaited speech on energy strategy on Tuesday came amid nationwide anger over rising fuel prices, with protests bringing the country to a standstill at times.

Macron said the fuel taxes would be adjusted to take into account sharp rises in world oil prices, but vowed not to back down on measures to protect the environment.

Over the last 10 days, tens of thousands of people across France have protested and staged blockades over the price of petrol, which has gone up as much as 20 percent since the start of 2018.

The mass rallies have often turned violent with running clashes between the protesters and police officers. 

“What I’ve taken from these last few days is that we shouldn’t change course, because it is the right one and necessary,” Macron said in the hour-long speech at the Elysee Palace in the French capital, Paris.

“But we need to change how we work because a number of our citizens feel this policy course is imposed on them from above,” he added.

In an attempt to calm the protesters, Macron proposed a three-month consultation with associations and activist groups, including the so-called “yellow jackets” who have led the recent protests.

The name comes from the neon jacket worn by many of the protesters.

The French president said protesters could not demand better public services and also expect lower taxes.

However, he acknowledged the increase in fuel tax, which kicked in just as pump prices were rising, had inflicted more pain than anticipated.

“I have seen like many French people the difficulties for people who have to drive a lot and have problems making ends meet at the end of the month,” he said.

“I believe very profoundly that we can transform this anger into the solution.”

Nuclear energy

Although the price of oil is increasing across the globe, many in France believe Macron’s so-called “green taxes” have exacerbated the increase in the price of fuel.

Macron, who took office in 2017, imposed the taxes in an attempt to lower air pollution, but protesters say the taxes unfairly punish people who need their cars. 

In his speech on Tuesday, Macron also said that France would shut down 14 of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors currently in operation by 2035, 10 years later than the 2025 target set by his predecessor Francois Hollande.

France gets about three-quarters of its electricity from its 19 nuclear plants.

Macron has promised to develop renewable energy instead, saying his priority is weaning France’s economy from fuel that contributes to global warming.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies