What began late last year as a peaceful backlash against rising fuel costs quickly morphed into a sometimes violent working class rebellion against inequality and the political elite. M Philippot, the former vice-president of the populist Rassemblement national (RN) party, told France 2 television: “[The spike in fuel prices] will penalise the French, in particular, those who have no choice but to drive to work. We could do without VAT on fuel. Doing so would immediately lower the prices at the pumps.” Petrol and diesel prices have climbed dramatically since the start of the year and are now almost back at the levels which triggered the anti-government yellow vest movement. The price of unleaded petrol at the pump, for example, reached €1,58 a litre (£1.36) this week – a level not seen since 2013.
M Philippot warned the Macron government against allowing fuel prices to spiral out of control, saying that crippling pump prices would inevitably spark a fresh round of violent street protests.
He said: “[High fuel costs] are what, at the beginning, prompted people to slip on a yellow vest and take to the streets. And now pump prices are actually higher than what they were when the movement first started.”
M Philippot continued: “I suggest an over-taxation of [French] oil and gas giants. They should contribute to increased solidarity and help implement a policy designed to boost the purchasing power of the French.”
Asked whether this surcharge should be permanent or cyclical, he said: “I think we can over-tax them specifically when there is an increase in pump prices like the one we are seeing now … I don’t see why [oil and gas] behemoths should not have to do business in a way that fosters solidarity.”
In a separate interview with the French news channel CNews on Tuesday, M Philippot lashed out at France’s 41-year-old president, saying that M Macron’s first two years in office had been “catastrophic”.
Indeed, M Macron is struggling to shake off the yellow vest revolt, widely billed as the worst political crisis of his presidency.
The movement – so-called because of the high-vis jackets worn by protesters – began in November with the aim of highlighting the squeeze on household budgets caused by higher fuel prices, but quickly ballooned into a broader rebellion against M Macron’s perceived indifference to the struggles of ordinary citizens.
While support for the movement has ebbed, the protests are now in their 25th straight week.
After the first slate of emergency measures put forward last December failed to quell the unrest, M Macron was forced to make new policy proposals last month in an effort to end the crisis that has shaken his authority.
The former investment banker and economy minister said he wanted a significant cut in income taxes, saying it would be worth around €5 billion, financed by closing loopholes for some companies.
Along with the tax relief, M Macron said government spending would be slashed and that the French would have to work more to build up social contributions, an announcement that is likely to prompt a backlash in a country known for its 35-hour week.
He also pledged to lift a freeze on pension increases for low-income retirees, which the finance ministry said would cost around €1.4 billion.
The total cost of measures to lower taxes and increase buying power in response to months of heated anti-government demonstrations now stands at around €17 billion, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
M Le Maire told France 2 television last month: “The tax cuts will mainly be financed by lower public spending.”