The Yellow Vest Movement against President Macron Fuel Tax reform
France, Europe, and the world were taken by surprise as thousands of French citizens took to the streets of every part of France in protest to the proposed fuel tax increment policy of President Emmanuel Macron. The protest which cut across most low and middle class french citizens was one of the largest turnouts of people protesting against the government in recent times. The movement which is known as the Yellow Vest (Gilets Juanes)Movement because of the color of the public drivers’ vest they put on, was organized by individuals who started on social media before it became nationwide. The protest was so huge that it forced the president to return home from an international meeting of world leaders.
President Macron earlier this year proposed that there will be an increment in the taxes being paid on fuel and its by-products. The increment was already included in the 2019 budget the president submitted for approval, and the increment was to take effect on Jan 2019. Although President Macron has rescinded the tax increment policy after the protest, it is an event that is worth taking a look at considering who the President is and what he claims to represent and to see what the eventual outcome of the situation and how it will affect the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.
Protests against the policies of the government is not a new phenomenon in France. In Sept. last year, President Macron reform on labor and fast rail were also met with stiff opposition from Labor Unions. This came as a surprise because it was not long that Macron was elected as president. Around the mid-year, there was also series of protest against the president tax policy on retirees.
The increased Fuel tax proposed by President Macron is another reform of the president to tackle climate change and also to bring about a reduction in carbon usage. The fuel tax which is set to bring the tax paid on gas and diesel to rise by 0.029/liter and 0.065/liter respectively. Recently, France has experienced unstable changes in the price of petrol. Between 2017 and 2018, the prices of fuel in France has increased by 15% up to 23%. The French people already pay the domestic consumption tax in which the money goes to the regional government and the rest, to the national government. There is also a value added tax which is different entirely from the domestic consumption tax. Although the government explained that these taxes are meant to discourage the use of fossil fuel and encourage the use of alternate sources of energy. The president since the beginning of the administration has always promised to pursue reforms that will help reduce carbon emission a plan which is already in motion with series of reforms like the ban on gasoline-fueled cars which is due by 2040. The protesters feel these taxes are already making life difficult for the average people, so the new proposed tax is entirely insensitive of the government.
The Yellow Vest (Gilets Juanes)Movement
The Yellow Vest (Gilets Juanes)movement protest against the fuel tax has seen thousands of French individuals and unions troop out in support. Initially, more than 280,000 people took over the country-both in the urban and rural communities. Since its beginning, the protest has become more and more violent with the burning of cars and petrol station. It has also been reported that there has been a case of four deaths and hundreds injured. The uniqueness of the protest is in the uniqueness of the organizers.
The Yellow Vest Movement is initially a grassroots movement which has no political agenda or known organizational structure which makes it difficult to identify who the leaders are. From several reports, it seems the demands of the movement has gone beyond the fuel tax, it can be deduced that the president himself is now the target of the protest as some see him as insensitive to the plight of the middle and low class of the French society. The movement states that the government has not been entirely honest with the people on its climate change policy which is the underlying reason for these taxes. It stated that although the taxes being paid in France is small compared to that of Germany, but only 20% of the proceeds from the fuel taxes are used to supporting a cleaner and carbon-free France.
Demands of the Yellow Vest movement
Apart from the fuel tax reform of the president, the demands of the Yellow Vest movement have expanded. There is now a demand for the increase in the pre-tax minimum wage which is currently 1,498.47 a month if it is 35 hours/week. Also, the movement has demanded equality in the payment structure among genders. Although the president has reiterated his commitment to gender equality across all boards, it seems the protesters want more to be done. The protesters also demanded that the government should do an upward review of the subsidies that are being paid to companies in order to make them increase the number of young people that will gain employment. Currently, the government is paying subsidies to firms that hire young individuals to enable them to cover for health n social benefits, but the protesters want more subsidies to encourage employment.
Although President Macron has rescinded the fuel tax rise reform, it is clear as water that the president has lost the support of the ordinary people with a drop of the approval rating from 70% to 26% and declining, and these protests do not have an end in sight because the president has insisted that these reforms must be made. The Yellow Vest movement lack of a political stance has increased the fears of it being hijacked by anarchist groups which may discredit the movement.
French politics since before and after the Great Revolution has always been surrounded with protests some of which become violent and eventually leads to a change in the entire governmental structure, so what Macron is facing is not a new phenomenon, and he should be ready for more resistance.