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Knowing when to fold

Dec 03,2018
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KIM SUNG-TAK
The author is a London correspondent at the JoongAng Ilbo.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating has fallen to 25 percent. When he became the youngest president of France, his approval rating was over 80 percent. Now, it has dipped to one of the lowest levels. He doesn’t seem to care. Having decided to expand the companies’ right to fire and to lower corporate tax, he revamped the employment system despite strikes by the state-run railroad workers, who had hindered reform attempts by past administrations. While he is derided as a president for the rich, he said in his New Year’s address that he would continue to pursue reform because “it was the reason why I was elected president.”

But on Nov. 27, Macron stepped back for the first time as protests intensified after taxes on diesel increased to 23 percent and gasoline to 15 percent to move toward an environmentally-friendly economy. When protesters wearing yellow vests rallied violently on the Champs-Élysées, the Macron government thought that a far-right network was mobilized. But the government quickly announced a plan after a survey showed that 80 percent of French citizens supported the protest. In a one-hour speech that was broadcast live, Macron admitted that the tax increases resulted in more pain than expected. He said he would implement a system to offset the burden when international oil prices go up.

Macron also expressed a practical stance on the nation’s nuclear power policy. The preceding Holland government had announced that the dependency on nuclear power would be lowered from 75 percent to 50 percent by year 2025. But Macron postponed the timeline by ten years. He explained that rushing to close nuclear reactors could increase fossil fuel energy use and make the electricity supply unstable. But he clearly stressed that conversion to environmentally-friendly energy is the right direction that cannot be changed, as climate change is already happening. He added that he would listen to the voices of the people, but will not tolerate violent protests.

As the Moon Jae-in administration is promoting income-driven growth and inclusive growth, some complain of pains from minimum wage increases. Some convenience store owners grumble that they don’t make much after paying wages. But the government is ignoring them. Even when its nuclear phase-out policy contributes to global warming with more coal thermal energy being used, the government has stuck with it.

Macron’s response shows that introducing policies in a flexible way at the right time is the way to attain the goals of a government.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 29, Page 33