MS Risk Blog

‘Yellow Vest’ Protests in France

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This month, French protests against the proposed January 2019 fuel tax increase by President Emmanuel Macron have spiralled into a wider display of popular discontent and has emerged as the ‘yellow vest’ movement. The movement includes different social categories such as students, farmers and truck drivers all under the banner of ‘The People’ against Macron’s government that is perceived as not representing their interests.

Macron is suffering his lowest popularity in his 18-month presidency and is no stranger to French protests, however this protest was significantly different as the backlash came from right-wing conservative elements in the countryside that have felt marginalised with the policies of the young, talented former banker.  In Macron’s rapid rise to power, the environment was placed at the forefront of his agenda, which months later has reaped a whirlwind of mass political violence that have taken the government by surprise. The protest was able to successfully tap into the rebellious ‘barricades’ culture of the French nation and bring in other marginalised persons to its cause.

Saturday 17 November marked the first day of road blockades across France, with around 290,000 protesters all distinguishably wearing the yellow vests that all drivers must carry in their cars by law. Although, the protest was organised through social media, no visible leaders have emerged but instead are shown to reject ties to main political parties or unions. The following day, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the government will not back down on proposed fuel tax increases that are intended to help pay for Macron’s green policy. On Saturday 24 November, further ‘yellow vests’ blocked traffic and motorways around the county, while a large-scale demonstration took place in Paris that ended with an evening clash with police on the Champs-Elysees. At the end of the week, 166,000 demonstrators were recorded across France and 8,000 in Paris. Finally, on November 27 the protests made headway as Macron offered minor concessions proposing to adjust fuel tax increases in case of rising oil costs and called for an extended national consultation. The concessions did not stop the ‘yellow vests’ from calling a new protest on Saturday 1 December, once more on the iconic Champs-Elysees. The Prime Ministers’ attempts to talk with the protestors have not progressed as the meeting would not be broadcast on TV.

The impact of the ‘yellow vest’ protests has already shown that mass political violence has succeeded in changing Macron’s previous uncompromising resolve. Macron’s abandonment of the fuel-tax hike has damaged his image and shown ‘the people’ that the unshakeable President can be brought to heel. The concessions have not managed to appease the protestors that see too little too late, but having tasted blood, might be not wanting to stop there and continue until toppling the government. Macron faces difficulty in reconciling centrist policies alongside stagnant wages, 9 per cent unemployment and high taxes. Sociologist Michel Wieviorka has said that “If people compare Macron to Louis XVI, it’s a warning that he has hasn’t learned the lesson of history,” “They don’t literally want his head, but it’s a strong message that they don’t feel listened to”.