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Despite Concessions, Macron's Struggles With Yellow Vest Movement Deepen


Several thousand protesters were back in the streets of French cities today in the fifth weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's government. Several dozen arrests were reported.

In response to those protests, President Macron, this week, announced tax cuts and an increase in the minimum wage. He also pledged to pay more attention to the working middle class. Just 25 percent of French citizens say they approve of the job the president's been doing. That is a lower approval rating than President Trump.

We're joined now on Paris - from Paris from the veteran French journalist Anne Nivat. Thanks very much for being with us.

ANNE NIVAT: Yes. Good morning.

SIMON: If President Macron has taken these steps, why are there still protests?

NIVAT: Oh, because, you know, it's not that easy. President Macron has no solution for now. That is the key moment. President Macron was elected in April 2017 because of this anger, the same anger that is now still - is still booming. So there is the feeling that President Macron did nothing. That's why there is still this anger.

Macron's popularity is really sinking, and Macron doesn't really know what to do. It took him a few days before making a speech, and we're not used to that. President Macron is very much in control. Usually, he's very much in control and is very good at his speeches when they are prepared.

He's not the same when he's talking to the people, to the crowd. When he's talking to the crowd, which is what he did a few weeks ago when he said to someone, you know, in order to find a job, just cross the street, and you will find a job. That is the kind of assertion that is making the people in France furious.

SIMON: Where do we put the yellow vest movement on the political spectrum? Is it left, right? Is it something else? How do we understand it?

NIVAT: It's very complicated, very tricky. It has been instrumentalized by the far-left and the far-right - by both. But I must say that in between the far-left and the far-right, there is a huge crowd that is not politicized. And we have, really, to admit it. We have to acknowledge it. We have to see it. These people, who are not politicized, can be violent. And some of them are still and will still be violent out of despair.

We had more than 25 percent of the French population that didn't go to vote during the last presidential election in April 2017. It's very - it's a very big number. And these people still live in frustration, in exasperation, in indignation. They are very resentful. And the reasons are very multiple. That's why it's not easy for President Macron to find the solution now. It's a very deep-rooted and ancient, old crisis.

SIMON: In the 20 seconds we have left - so all the reforms he pledged to undertake - are they off the - when he was elected - they off the table now?

NIVAT: Well, the reforms are just words. For now, it's just words, you know? We had a European summit two days ago in Brussels. And France has a huge problem, which is its budget deficit. It's under scrutiny of the European Union. And if we're - Macron will do everything he promised a few days ago to solve the crisis, it will be even bigger. So for now, there is no immediate solution.

SIMON: Anne Nivat, thanks so much.

NIVAT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.