The “Gilets Jaunes”, or “Yellow Vests”, began as an anti-tax protest in France but has evolved and coalesced people across the political left-right spectrum into a broader anti-government movement. The movement, which has spread beyond France to Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands has become so large that political experts are now calling it a “new revolution.” Unlike traditional protest movements, the Yellow Vests began online through petitions and was organised by ordinary working people posting videos on social media, without a leader, trade union, or political party behind it.
France gets 75 percent of its energy from oil and gas. Since President Macron enacted the fuel tax in January 2018, the price of gas has risen by 7.6 cents per litre and by 3.84 cents per litre for diesel. The average price for gas in November was €1.50 per litre, which converts to approximately USD $1.70 per litre. The next fuel tax increase is set for January 2019.
Though many of the demonstrations until now have largely been peaceful protests, groups such as Antifa are now using the crowds to create riots and cause destruction. The “yellow vest” movement, whose supporters cut across age, job profile, and geographical region, began online as an impromptu rebellion against higher fuel prices but has morphed into a broader outpouring of anger over the squeeze that living costs are putting on middle-class household budgets. The movement’s members come principally from the hard-pressed middle class and blue-collar workers living outside the big cities.
Public support for the “yellow vests” remains high, with the support of seven in ten people a Harris Interactive opinion poll suggested. The protestor’s core demand is a freeze on further planned fuel tax increases and measures to bolster spending power. Many have also called for President Macron to resign.
The protests are drawing roughly between 135,000 and 170,000 people, from those who gathered in late November. Riot police have been overrun as anarchist-infiltrated protesters wrought havoc in Paris’s fanciest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques, and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the capitol’s worst riots since the far-left student uprising in 1968. The Arc de Triomphe, a unifying national monument that houses the tomb of the unknown soldier, was defaced, and a bust of national symbol Marianne was smashed. Economically, hotel reservations are down, retailers are suffering, and investors are nervous.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the government would not rule out the President’s declaring a state of emergency. President Macron has emergency powers that were expanded after the 2015 terrorist attacks across the country.