French President Emmanuel Macron has given a long-awaited response to the yellow vest movement.
Despite insisting that order must return, he acknowledged a “lack of trust” in the establishment.
He promised new measures to address this including tax cuts, a reform of the civil service and the introduction of proportional representation.
The speech was planned for April 15 but was postponed after the devastating fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
President Macron recognised that at the core of the movement were “fair demands”.
Protests started in November over rises in fuel costs intended to fund eco-friendly projects.
These escalated into the gilets jaunes, or yellow vest movement, a national uprising against economic injustice in France.
When he was elected in 2017, Mr Macron vowed to fight “the forces of division that undermine France”.
Although he questioned in his speech whether he had taken a “wrong turn”, he insisted that government reforms so far have been right, but not fast enough.
The president said he had “learnt a lot” from national debates held with French citizens across the country – an unforeseen political exercise.
He announced a “significant cut” in income tax by reducing government spending, but said the French would have to work harder to achieve this.
The president also acknowledged there were concerns in society regarding climate change and immigration.
Last week, in a move to rid himself of his elitist reputation, he said he would close the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), a school which has trained several French presidents, including Mr Macron himself.
A speech for France, not the yellow vests
Yes, there were announcements.
More PR at elections (good news for the far right); fewer MPs; lower income tax for the middle classes; reform (but perhaps not outright abolition) of the National Administration School (ENA); decentralisation of the state administration; longer working lives.
And yes, there was partial admission of responsibility for the breakdown of trust between governed and governing that led to the yellow vests. He should have been more human, less arrogant, Mr Macron admitted.
But such was not the burden from tonight’s marathon press conference.
The overall message was not what must now change, but what must remain the same. And that, says Mr Macron, is the overarching “orientation” of his presidency. The reforms enacted so far, on tax, labour and education, are the right ones and they are working, he said. There will be more to come.
The yellow vests, or the more hard-line among them, will not like it. But they are not Mr Macron’s target audience. The target is France as a whole.