Macron's New Wave of Policies Faces Yellow Vest Test

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron got a tentative boost Saturday, as fewer Yellow Vest protesters took to the streets following his announcement of new measures aimed at stilling the unrest.

The center of gravity for the protests shifted to Strasbourg, where organizers of the grassroots movement urged people from other countries to join the protest in the city that’s home to the European Parliament. Television images showed some minor clashes with police launching tear gas to disperse protesters trying to reach the parliament building.

In Paris, police had closed off streets to traffic around the Elysee Palace and banned Yellow Vests from gathering on the Champs Elysees, a focal point for violence and destruction in previous demonstrations. Protesters respected the ban, instead marching on the left bank and between the headquarters of France’s main media outlets to show their anger with what they consider unfair representation.

Police estimated 23,600 demonstrators had taken to the streets around France of which 2,600 were in the capital, AFP reported citing the interior ministry. Last Saturday, police counted 27,900 protesters nationwide and 9,000 in Paris.

The latest protests come after Macron presented a host of new policies in an effort to show he will respond to the Yellow Vests and the concerns French people have voiced during almost three months of public debates in town halls around the country.

While Macron stopped short of agreeing to some of the more radical demands, he pledged a “new act” for his presidency with modifications of policies in areas from tax to education and France’s democratic system.

Saturday does not provide a full measure of the Yellow Vest response to Macron’s latest plans as many may have chosen to stay at home and focus their efforts on joining the traditional May 1 labor protests on Wednesday.

The stakes are high for Macron as the new measures will hit already stretched public finances and could dilute his pro-business policies. The country’s biggest business lobby Medef said on Friday that Macron’s measures “raise many questions” and that his plans to close some tax breaks for companies would be “totally unacceptable.”

Early surveys show French people are also skeptical. According to a poll by Elabe for BFMTV, 65% of the French who watched or listened to Macron’s policy announcements said they were not convinced.

Junior economy and finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Saturday that French people will be more convinced once they feel the impact of Macron’s decisions to cut taxes.

“The Yellow Vest movement is relatively weakened today. French people want it to stop,” she said on BFMTV. “What they want is more tax justice so it’s up to us to prove that is what will be done.”

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