Over the last two weeks, the city of Paris had witnessed violent riots and arson of a scale that was hitherto unseen for nearly half a century. Nicknamed “gilets jaunes” – or the yellow-vest protest – was an upheaval of the French people who were generally frustrated with the mushrooming fuel taxes, which seemed to keep going higher even when the global fuel rates were seeing a decline over the last two months.
In many ways, the problem starts and ends with the French elections of 2017. Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France, rose to power over the promise of transforming France into an economy that cuts back on its dependency on oil and gas – and thereby honor its pact with The Paris Agreement.
The French government was quick to realize that it would not be possible to coax people into effecting change, but rather, would have to be forced into doing it. And thus began a crackdown on anything concerning oil and gas, including offshore excavations that the government passed an order to be banned on its soil by 2040. Then again, France imports 99% of its oil, and an oil exploration ban on its land practically amounts to nothing, which when pointed out, was explained to be a symbolic gesture to put pressure on other countries to follow suit.
Macron’s government also started tightening its screws around gasoline, by imposing extra taxes on fuel, which it stated would go into financing anti-pollution policies and in bringing about more zero-carbon transportation possibilities. The government had announced that it would be levying an additional three cents for petrol and six cents for diesel from January 1.
However, this did not sit well with the public, as the inordinate mark up in fuel prices dawned on the people in the form of hikes in the prices of everyday commodities, pulling people out to the streets.
What resulted was the yellow-vest movement, which pillaged Paris for two weeks, leaving a handful dead and a few hundred injured. But as the mob was without any credible leadership at its helm, the fuel-tax protests started dissolving into varied demands, with a few factions asking for the step-down of the Macron government, with some others asking for economic parity amongst the working class.
In what could be considered a first, the French government bowed down to the pressure last week and came up with a $570 million relief package for the poor French households. Yesterday, the government also announced that it would be rolling back on the fuel taxes and electricity price hikes that were to be effected from the start of next year, stating that it would be suspended for the next six months.
“Thousands of French have expressed their anger,” said prime minister Edouard Philippe. “This anger goes back a long way and has often remained silent. Today it’s being expressed with force and in a collective way. It is the anger of the French who work and work hard, but still have difficulty making ends meet, who find their backs against the wall. If events of the last days have shown anything, it is that the French do not want any more taxes or charges. No tax merits putting in danger national unity.”
However, even with the prime minister’s moving statement, the yellow-vest protestors seem to have not had enough. “The French are not sparrows and don’t want the crumbs the government is giving them. They want the baguette,” said Benjamin Cauchy, a yellow-vest spokesperson, as the movement has now transfigured into advocating for wealth redistribution by raising minimum wages and social security payments.