The picturesque streets around Paris’ Arc de Triomphe turned into a battlefield between police and supporters of the so-called “Yellow Vests” movement, following a decision to raise fuel prices by French President Emmanuel Macron in November. While Macron might have barely made it through the rolling strikes over union reforms earlier this year, his luck ran out this time around as he was forced to give in to the protesters’ demands by suspending the fuel tax increase for six months. Although it has been hoped that such concession will be able to calm the protesters down, Macron’s image has already taken a beating with his popularity dropping by six points to 23 per cent following the unrest, according to a poll by Ifop-Fiducial. The “Yellow Vests” movement on the other hand received 66 per cent support from the French public.
Many believed that the latest protests in France marked a growing anger against the ruling elites in Paris, particularly Macron and his government for failing to deliver despite riding on the centrist platform to win the election in 2017. His idea of not backing down from tough economic reforms could have earned him support during the campaigning period, but those who took part now believe that the investment banker-turned-president is getting “more and more disconnected” from the people who put him in power. From a wider perspective, the measure by Macron on the fuel tax also pitted the working class as well as the poorer people in rural areas against their wealthier and more elitist counterparts in big cities.
Although disorganized at the beginning, the “Yellow Vests” movement can perhaps be regarded as the best manifestation of this as their supporters prompted the worst street violence in France in half a century. There is also little sign that the movement is dying as they continued to organize protests in major cities and demanded for more action to address their concerns, particularly on social injustices, inequality and unemployment among others. The movement also received broad-based endorsements from various quarters including high school students, rail workers, long-distance drivers and farmers just to mention a few. As the movement continued to streamline and reinvent itself, a severely weakened Macron is likely to face a rougher path in pushing through his contested reforms for the rest of his term in office.
There will also be other repercussions in the latest bout of violence in a country that was once regarded as a beacon of hope while populism swept through Europe like wildfires. As in many cases, tourism will likely be one of the first casualties as images of rioters ransacking through shops at the infamous Champs-Élysées Avenue beamed across the globe. Some countries have even issued travel advisories to their citizens amid the risk of the protests escalating. In the long term, the French economy will also be negatively impacted as the protests had clearly contrasted the idea a progressive nation that is seeking to rejuvenate itself through innovation and technology. Such prolonged uncertainties could also send jitters to investors as well as foreign companies seeking for stability in the French political arena.
The SAFEY app has provided continuous updates since the protests began in November 2018.
17 November: The first protests by the “Yellow Vests” were held on this day in major cities across France. An advanced alert was sent out to SAFEY users on 13 November.
18 November: Fuel protests enter second day. Another alert was sent out to SAFEY users on the same day. Most affected locations and associated risks were also highlighted in the app.
19 November-1 December: SAFEY sent out eight alerts on the ongoing protests related to the “Yellow Vests” movement during this period. The clashes in Paris were also being mentioned in one of the alerts in the app.
5 December: President Macron announced that he will suspend the fuel tax raise for six months.
6 December: SAFEY sent out an alert on the protests that will be taking place across France on 8 December. The “Yellow Vests” movement had vowed to continue their protests despite Macron’s concession.
8 December: Street protests continue in Paris and other cities. Hundreds were arrested. Updates were provided on the SAFEY app relating to the developing situation.