Yellow Jackets in the Streets
How one Announcement Sent France on a Tailspin into Confusion and Chaos
The past month has not been kind to France, but it has been enlightening. The county’s turmoil began on November 17th, when French President Emmanuel Macron announced his planned fuel tax increase to go along with rising diesel prices. While Macron’s plans were framed as an attempt to protect the environment, many French citizens, especially those from the middle class, felt that the policy was indicative of the President’s separation from those who are struggling to make ends meet.
This isn’t a new complaint about Macron. For much of his presidency, he has been perceived as privileged and sympathetic to the French elite, and out of touch from the struggling middle and lower classes. The planned fuel tax increase, which would mainly impact the rural, middle-class workers who drive to work in the mornings, was a sign to many that Macron did not hear their complaints.
So, like many frustrated societies before them, over the past weeks tens of thousands of French citizens have taken to the streets to display their anger. The protests were sometimes peaceful, but others have also turned violent with protesters burning cars in the streets and tear gas, rocks, and water cannons being exchanged between police and the protesters. The protesters call themselves “Les Gilets Juanes” ( The Yellow Jackets), for the bright colored vests they don to show their affiliation. These violent clashes have prompted several French landmarks, such as the Louver, Eifel Tower and Champs Elysees to temporarily close amidst the protests. The Arc de Triomphe remains closed after it was vandalized during the previous weekends of demonstrations.
However, the protests are evolving. They are no longer about just the tax increase, which has already been retracted by Macron following the backlash. No, this movement has morphed into a desperate explosion of frustration at the President. The French people want change. They want their president to prioritize their lives and not just the lives of the wealthy.
In an attempt to appease the protestors, Macron has proposed an increase in the minimum wage by 100 euros ($113) a month and promised that overtime hours will not be taxed. However, he refused to reinstate the wealth tax, an annual tax directed at French citizens with assets exceeding the value of €1,300,000.
It is possible that these concessions have slowed the protests. This past weekend, numbers were lower than in the past. But to many French citizens, Macron’s compromise is not enough. They want more from their President, who is facing his lowest popularity rating since taking office.
Unemployment, poverty, and anger over Macron’s lack of sympathy to the poor are at the root of this movement, not policy. And until Macron can fix his image in the minds of the poor and middle classes, the yellow vests will seemingly remain in the streets, begging their president to listen to their needs.