PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron was elected on a promise to burnish France’s image on the global stage, but as shops and hotels counted the costs Monday of rioting over the weekend, many fear they won’t have much to cheer for Christmas.
Violent anti-government protests on Saturday engulfed chic Paris shopping districts, where a police lockdown and vandalism forced many stores to shut.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire met with business representatives Monday to tally the damage from arson and shattered windows, looted shelves and lost revenue as the scenes of urban unrest stopped locals and tourists alike from venturing out.
“The impact is severe and ongoing,” Le Maire said after the meeting.
Some retailers had accumulated sales declines of between 20 and 40 percent during the demonstrations, while some restaurants had lost 20 percent to 50 percent of their takings, he said.
Macron himself had already warned last week that “one shouldn’t underestimate the shock to people, in France and abroad, of seeing in the media what looked like war scenes.”
“Our worst fears were confirmed: this third straight weekend of blockages caused a very significant drop in activity for all businesses,” Jacques Creyssel of the FCD retailing federation told AFP on Sunday.
“The lost revenue and losses, especially in food services, is going to be in the billions of euros,” Creyssel said.
In an attempt to protect retailers, police had cordoned off access to the Champs Elysees on Saturday after clashes the previous weekend saw the iconic avenue smothered in tear gas and smoke from burning barricades.
But the effect was merely to displace the violence, with protesters attacking shops, banks, cars and buildings in surrounding streets instead.
The chaos has caused fear for business during the busy year-end holidays, when retail revenues generally rise from 8-9 billion euros a week to around 15 billion euros ($17 billion), according to Creyssel.
During the first “yellow vest” protests on November 17, when nearly 300,000 people angry over President Emmanuel Macron’s tax policies began blocking roads, national retail sales plummeted by 35 percent, he said.
The losses continued to stack up a week later as protesters converged on Paris for their first major rally on November 24.
A manager of the famed Alsace brasserie on the Champs Elysees later told Le Parisien he had to evacuate clients through a back door before closing for the day, costing him 50,000 euros.
Officials expect even worse damage from this weekend’s clashes, which began at the Arc de Triomphe war memorial and then fanned out to key shopping areas.
Chanel and Dior boutiques near the monument were looted and two major department stores near the Opera, whose elaborate Christmas window displays draw thousands of families, were evacuated.
“Once we learn the costs of this destruction, I think everyone will be stunned at how huge it will be,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Sunday.
She also warned about the damage to Paris’ reputation, after TV footage showed frightened customers cowering in hotel lobbies or restaurants, as roving packs of protesters swarmed past.
Saturday’s protest “has decimated the welcoming image of Paris and France,” said Roland Heguy of the CAT tourism federation, warning that this Christmas season was “at risk, if not already lost.”
France had been on track for a banner tourism year, with a record 17.1 hotel rooms booked in the first half, he said, recovering from the slump which followed the jihadist attacks of 2015.
On Monday, Le Maire said that for the first time since the start of the protests hotel reservations had fallen by “around 15 to 20 percent.”
With further rallies called for Saturday, the Chamber of Commerce for Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region urged the government to “re-establish an atmosphere that favours business operations during the crucial year-end period.”
That appeal was echoed by the Medef employers’ federation, which called on the government to enter into dialogue with the protesters.
While the Paris violence was reprehensible, elsewhere “the protesters have acted responsibly and with dignity,” it said.
“Some of their demands should be taken into account.”__The Nation