PARIS — The French government has announced emergency measures to help retailers compensate for lost business due to several weeks of anti-government protests that turned the Avenue des Champs-Élysées into a battleground over the weekend.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he would extend Sunday openings in the run-up to the holidays to allow businesses to recoup some of their losses.
“Recent events have had a severe impact on the national economy,” he told a news conference on Monday.
The country has been gripped by a series of protests initially sparked by a fuel tax, with demonstrators in reflective safety vests — known as “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vests” — taking to the streets and blocking roads to show discontent over President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
Protests were violent over the weekend, with chaotic images of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées as demonstrators clashed with riot police. Security forces arrested more than 100 people and the famous avenue, which fetches some of the highest rents in the world, was compared to a war zone, with broken shop windows, smoke and patches of blazing debris.
Retail sales were down 35 percent compared with the same period a year ago on Nov. 17, on the first weekend of protests, and fell 18 percent on Nov. 24, estimated Le Maire.
In addition to allowing more Sunday openings for stores — the country’s regulations restrict shops from operating on Sundays except in certain zones — officials will be pushing insurance companies to accelerate payouts, extending deadlines for companies to pay social charges and pushing banks to extend overdrafts for affected businesses.
Following an emergency meeting with banking associations and business groups, Le Maire noted the protests have damaged France’s image at a time when the country is working to attract international investments.
“Figures for foreign investment into France show that our country is becoming the most attractive in Europe. These images go in the wrong direction, and they are a disaster for the image of our country,” he said, citing scenes of mayhem near the Champs-Élysées, where looters pillaged stores belonging to Christian Dior and Givenchy.
Jean-Virgile Crance, who heads Groupement National des Chaînes Hôtelières, a national hotels association, said he feared government efforts to drum up tourism would be severely damaged by the events.
“It was practically a hold-up of the Champs-Élysées by these ‘yellow vests’ and it’s a shameful image of France that we are conveying today, and it has a significant impact on tourist activities,” he said. Potential travel disruption could prompt people to rethink leisure or business trips, he noted.
As international brands and retailers focus on more select locations for their stores, the Champs-Élysées figures among the world’s priciest neighborhoods. It is home to sprawling flagships for Louis Vuitton, Apple, Nike and Adidas, among others, which serve as brand showcases in a digital era.