French Protesters Rebuke Hike in Fuel Taxes
On Saturday, Nov. 17, more than a quarter-million people took to the streets all over France to protest planned increases in gas taxes. The majority of the 2,000 demonstrations were concentrated in the suburbs and rural regions of France where there is a heavy reliance on motor vehicles for day-to-day activities. Demonstrators blocked highway access roads, roundabouts, intersections, and even border crossings.
The protesters — known as “Gilets Jaunes” or “Yellow Jackets” — continued their demonstrations this past Saturday. While the number of protestors was markedly lower — police estimated about 8,000 in Paris and more than 80,000 across France — the rallies were more violent this time around.
Tensions have been rising in France over the past two weeks culminating with the French police using tear gas and water cannons on protesters vandalizing shops and lighting fires along the Champs Elysées. The destruction could cost Paris $1.7 million. The chaos led to the arrest of more than 100 people.
The protests were sparked by President Macron’s announcement that taxes on gas and diesel would rise as part of economic reforms aimed at reducing France’s dependence on fossil fuels. The Transport Minister, Elisabeth Borne, has announced that by January 1, 2019, the tax on diesel will increase by 6.5 cents per gallon and the tax on gasoline will rise by 2.9 cents per gallon. Both rates are expected to keep rising in the coming years.
President Macron has so far shown no intention to reconsider the tax hikes, believing they are necessary for curbing climate change. The New York Times reported that “no high-ranking official has met with any of the self-designated spokespeople for the movement who have been appearing on French television all week.”
The Yellow Jackets’ indignation comes in part from a sense that forwarding the interests of the political elite has come at the expense of those of the middle and working class. Macron has increasingly been perceived as being detached from working class struggles and has been accused of being a “president for the rich.”
The protests have evolved from being a mere rebuke of fuel taxes to a demonstration of growing discontent with the president. Such public discontent warns of potentially increased instability in the near future unless the President makes a greater effort to bridge the disconnect between himself and the population.