Herrera is a Marxist economist and researcher at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He works at the Centre d’Économie de la Sorbonne, Paris, and wrote this commentary on April 30. Workers World staff translated it.
President Emmanuel Macron was initially scheduled to deliver his televised speech on April 15 in response to the Yellow Vests’ demands and present his long-awaited measures. He escaped this perilous exercise at the last moment when the terrible fire broke out at Notre-Dame Cathedral — a masterpiece of humanity’s cultural heritage owned by a government that has been neglecting its national treasures for many years, assets that a weak head of state proved incapable of protecting.
Just after April 15, several presidential proposals were leaked to the public. According to instructions from the Elysée Palace [the French version of the White House], the media kicked up the suspense, in the style of advertising campaign slogans: “There will be a before and an after.” “Nothing will remain as it was.” “Surprise in sight.” What could be expected from a president who announced mid-January, during the launch of his ”National Great Debate,” that he would not change his course?
On the afternoon of April 25 His Majesty’s slender silhouette put on its show, all smiles, in front of an audience of ministers and supporters, the bowed and arched backs of the valets of high finance. For those who previously had the inconvenience of having to undergo one of the current French president’s speeches, the habit has been established: Macron, a former apprentice actor, is so accustomed to [using] sentences with such emphatic and overplayed lyricism, such obsolete and preposterous expressions, such hollow, ambiguous, distorted and essentially false formulas, that nobody understands precisely — and above all nobody believes — a word he says anymore. We are at that point — and fed up with it.
Faced with the ecological emergency, what does the president of the French Republic propose? Compliance with the Paris 2015 Climate Agreement? Funding? A frontal fight against the lobbies of industrial polluters? Think about it!
More fitting for Macron: the creation of an “Environmental Defense Council!” Shameful, criminal renunciation! Environmentalists, “climate walkers” and all the activists of “The deal of the century” (a campaign organized by a group of associations that gathered more than 2 million signatures and sued the state for its inaction in the fight against global warming) have not finished demonstrating!
Faced with the need for democracy and participation, what was Emmanuel Macron’s solution? The citizens’ initiative referendum, the demand of the Yellow Vests and the direct democracy mechanism allowing citizens to involve the population through a referendum without the agreement of the executive or the legislature?
No! Instead, a local initiative referendum (which has already existed since 2003), a tiny change (not much) toward a more proportional voting system for electing deputies and the announced abolition of the National School of Administration (soon to be replaced by [private] business schools). No progress in the businesses, in the civil service. The oligarchy is afraid of the people!
Will he Macron do anything to increase purchasing power? No!
He plans no increase in the minimum wage, family allowances or other social benefits. Nothing at all then? Yes: a boost for “single mothers,” who are raising their children alone, enabling them to receive the alimony due from their former spouse. Macron has probably forgotten that a law (passed in 2016, obviously not applied) already exists on this question! And above all, there is no assistance for single women who are most in need: those to whom the father of their child(ren) has the option not to pay alimony to raise their offspring!
No help for retirees
Retired workers? The president has cut 6 percent of their purchasing power for almost two years. By announcing the re-indexation on inflation of pensions of less than 2,000 euros per month only (Is it constitutional? Because retirement is a universal right resulting from the payment of contributions over the course of employment.), Macron is only giving pensioners a small part of what he has stolen from them. He claims that no retiree will receive less than 1,000 euros per month. The minimum retirement pay is currently 962 euros, so this generosity corresponds to an additional 38 euros per month! However, an existing law already stipulates that the minimum pension must exceed 85 percent of the minimum wage, i.e., 1,175 euros. Find the discrepancy. [1,000 euros = $1,117 on May 2]
What about taxation? Were they going to restore the tax on great wealth — as 9 out of 10 French people want? Or increase taxes on the ultra-rich, by introducing, for example, new brackets of personal income tax for the wealthiest taxpayers? Or abolish the value-added tax [a consumption tax levied on products at every point of sale where value has been added] on essential goods? Or finally track down tax evasion? You’ve got to be kidding!
Then what? The President replied: There will be a report commissioned (for the autumn) from the Court of Auditors on tax optimization without any action being taken before then; and the cancellation of “some tax loopholes for companies,” by maintaining the “tax credit for competitiveness and employment” — the largest tax loophole offered by the capitalist state to large French capitalists (for a total of 20 billion euros per year, plus an equivalent reduction in social contributions in the amount of billions). Thank you, Macron!
Let’s be thorough. There will also be a reduction in income tax (IRPP) “for all.” The problem: fewer than half of the French pay this tax — which is the fairest of all, however, because it depends on the remuneration received, which is relatively progressive and direct (unlike the value added tax, which is a sales tax) and — in quite exceptional cases — comparatively lower in France (3.5 percent of the gross domestic product) than elsewhere in Europe or among the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The 55 percent of French people who do not pay the IRPP are mainly the poorest. So they will not benefit from tax cuts!
The movement of Yellow Vests was originally mobilized against the increase in fuel taxes. Today, the price of petrol is at its highest in France; the car is the most heavily taxed of consumer goods and, between maintenance expenses, insurance premiums and roadworthiness tests, the car budget has increased by more than 10 percent over the last 12 months.
These announcements by Macron do not meet the deep expectations of the Yellow Vests, nor of the French people as a whole. Rather, their goal is to consolidate the right-wing and center-right electoral bloc which is the current political base of the president of the Republic. The changes will not quell the anger. Especially since the continuation of the “reforms” has been reconfirmed: cuts to pensions, civil services and unemployment benefits. Storm warning for the coming days!