Where will France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ protests lead to?

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

The French gov­ern­ment has pledged a range of mea­sures to end weeks of demon­stra­tions over taxes and de­clin­ing stan­dards of liv­ing. But who ex­actly makes up the ‘Yellow Vest’ move­ment, and will the gov­ern­ment be able to quell their anger af­ter a month of in­creas­ingly fiery protests?

Who are the pro­test­ers?

The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (Yellow Vest) move­ment sprang up in late Oc­to­ber against in­creases in fuel taxes an­nounced as part of Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s ef­forts to pay for clean en­ergy ini­tia­tives.

While the protests be­gan over fuel taxes, they have snow­balled into a wider move­ment against Macron, largely among peo­ple in small-town and ru­ral France.

Many ac­cuse the for­mer in­vest­ment banker of be­ing an ar­ro­gant ‘pres­i­dent of the rich’ who is out of touch with the strug­gles of or­di­nary peo­ple in the prov­inces.

Don­ning the lu­mi­nous safety vests French driv­ers are re­quired to carry in their cars, the pro­test­ers have blocked mo­tor­ways and petrol de­pots since their first Satur­day of demon­stra­tions on Novem­ber 17.

Many have con­tin­ued to man block­ades since then, play­ing havoc with traf­fic and caus­ing fuel short­ages ahead of the busy hol­i­day sea­son.

Or­gan­is­ers have called protests ev­ery Satur­day since, which de­gen­er­ated last week­end into run­ning bat­tles with po­lice in Paris, where more than 200 ve­hi­cles were burned and 412 peo­ple ar­rested.

What do they want?

Dif­fer­ent pro­test­ers have dif­fer­ent aims, and there is no widely recog­nised group of lead­ers for the grass­roots move­ment which took root on so­cial me­dia.

Some re­main fo­cused on low­er­ing fuel taxes and other fi­nan­cial bur­dens, say­ing low-in­come fam­i­lies in par­tic­u­lar are pay­ing the price for Macron’s push to re­form and re­vive the French econ­omy.

Oth­ers have made it per­sonal and say Macron must re­sign, still fum­ing over his de­ci­sion to cut taxes for the high­est earn­ers shortly af­ter sweep­ing to the pres­i­dency last year.

An im­me­di­ate in­crease in the min­i­mum wage and pen­sion ben­e­fits has also been a ral­ly­ing cry.

Un­der­pin­ning the move­ment is a wide­spread com­plaint that over­looked pro­vin­cial work­ers on mod­est in­comes barely scrape by af­ter pay­ing some of the high­est tax bills in Europe.

An apo­lit­i­cal move­ment with members who vote for par­ties of var­i­ous stripes, the ‘Yellow Vests’ have won sup­port from ev­ery­one from far-right leader Marine Le Pen to far-left fire­brand Jean-Luc Me­len­chon.

Why do they pose a chal­lenge?

The gov­ern­ment has ad­mit­ted it failed to ap­pre­ci­ate the depth of the anger, and has an­nounced it will can­cel a fuel tax hike set for Jan­uary, of seven euro cents for diesel and three cents for un­leaded.

Com­ing in­creases for elec­tric­ity and gas prices were also frozen, as were new ve­hi­cle in­spec­tion norms which would have hit users of older diesel cars.

The moves were dis­missed by pro­test­ers - and Macron's political op­po­nents - as too lit­tle, too late.

Since then Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has floated the idea of a bonus pay­ment for low­paid work­ers.

But ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate have gone nowhere, not least be­cause the move­ment’s pur­ported lead­ers have largely de­clined in­vi­ta­tions to talks - some be­cause they were threat­ened by other ‘Yellow Vests’.

(AFP)

A riot po­lice holds a gun dur­ing protest in Paris on Satur­day

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