French Disconnection: The Yellow Vest Protests
As British mainstream media outlets continue to focus their attention on the questions surrounding Brexit, many of us have failed to observe the domestic dilemmas of our European partners. Currently, one of Europe’s most significant issues remains the ongoing ‘yellow vest’ protests in France. The protestors, referred to locally as the gilets jaunes, have taken to the streets to make clear their significant disapproval of the current government’s economic policies.
In 2017, Emmanuel Macron was elected with a clear mandate to impose radical economic reforms. The people of France seek to move away from the outdated high-tax, high-spend economic model that has consistently inflated living costs beyond reasonable levels. Yet, as Macron has certainly now acknowledged, the difficulties of imposing rapid economic reforms often prompt substantial political and societal reactions.
In November of last year, the first planned protests took place in response to a proposed rise in petrol and diesel fuel duty, an indirect tax designed to ease France’s fiscal position and promote green transport. Hundreds of thousands of protestors, typically working-class commuters who perceive the effects of Macron’s reforms to be unfairly distributed, took to the streets adorning high-visibility jackets. Being easily acquired, low-cost and synonymous with emergencies, the yellow vests became the perfect item to symbolise the protests.
Of course, the gilets jaunes have been incredibly successful at mobilising disenfranchised individuals. This is partly due to the movement evolving away from concerning only fuel tax rises, and towards wider anti-government sentiments. The growing scale of the ‘yellow vest’ movement has therefore prevented President Macron from merely dismissing the protests as one of little political significance, and has prompted several concessions being made in the hope of calming the often violent unrest.
Over successive weekends, the protests have continued to mar France. Violent clashes between protesters and riot police have occurred in most major cities, resulting in numerous injuries and sadly, even fatalities. Furthermore, the economic costs of civil unrest are mounting; consumer expenditure and business investment have slowed considerably due to the level of uncertainty. This uncertainty seems set to continue for the foreseeable future, with protestor numbers failing to decline.
The ‘yellow vest’ movement highlights how France’s domestic issues are part of a wider pattern of global uncertainty. As France reaches an impasse concerning the ‘yellow vest’ movement, the UK has reached a recent parliamentary deadlock regarding Brexit and the China-US trade war remains unresolved. President Macron, in addition to other global leaders, must accept the crucial need for compromise.