French President Emmanuel Macron has announced tax cuts for middle-class workers and a more representative parliament in a bid to quell five months of yellow vest protests.
In a nationally televised speech, he also warned that France and Europe must better fight illegal immigration.
Mr Macron spoke to the nation from the Elysee presidential palace after three months of national debate aimed at addressing the protesters’ concerns about high taxes, high unemployment and stagnant wages.
He also unveiled measures to boost pensions and help single parents and eased rules on referendums, making it easier for people to find an outlet for grievances besides the street protests that have convulsed the country for 23 consecutive weeks.
But Mr Macron warned that there comes a time for hard choices.
“I don’t believe in permanent referendums, because referendums don’t allow for difficult decisions at the time when they must be made,” he said.
He also warned that illegal immigration was weighing on France and Europe. He said he favoured a “strong” Europe that protects its borders and at the same time is able to take in some asylum seekers coming from countries where their lives are at risk.
“To be welcoming, you need to have a house. So we need borders, we need borders to be respected, we need rules,” he said.
Some critics are likely to dismiss his proposals as too little, too late. The protesters see the centrist Mr Macron, a former investment banker, as leading a French government that favours the rich and want more income equality.
Many French protesters say they cannot pay their bills due to the high cost of living.
Mr Macron was going to make his economic announcements last week but postponed them when the April 15 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral broke out.
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said Mr Macron’s party leaders and government officials will meet on Monday to figure out the best schedule to implement the new measures.
The yellow vests, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, have been protesting for 23 consecutive weeks. The numbers of protesters have dwindled in recent weeks amid internal divisions but they remain a challenge to Mr Macron’s government.
The movement started in November as a protest against a fuel tax hike and quickly expanded into broader public rejections of Mr Macron’s economic policies.
He has already made some concessions, but they failed to extinguish the anger of the yellow vest movement. In December, he abandoned the fuel tax hike, scrapped a tax increase for retirees and introduced a 100 euro monthly bonus to increase the minimum wage, a package estimated at 10 billion euros.
But Mr Macron has repeatedly refused to reintroduce a wealth tax on the country’s richest people — one of the protesters’ main demands — and he did so again on Thursday, saying he was aiming to keep investments in France.
French polls show that Mr Macron’s popularity hovered around low levels for more than a year but it has increased recently as the yellow vest protests turned violent and the French leader traversed the country taking part in the national debate.