In light of the “yellow vests” movement that has resulted in demonstrations and riots in Paris since mid-November, French President Emmanuel Macron announced delays on a proposed diesel tax hike on Dec. 4.
Voice of America noted in a report that it was the first time Macron had backtracked on a major policy since taking office in 2017.
The yellow vests (gilets jaunes in French) movement was started in May 2018, and led to the demonstrations beginning on Nov. 17 as an expression of dissatisfaction with rising taxes, especially the proposed fuel tax. According to the French interior ministry, the size of the demonstrations peaked at 287,000 people.
On Monday, Dec. 3, Parisian shops, hotels, and restaurants assessed the damage caused by the second round of weekend rioting. Bruno Le Maire, France’s Economy and Finance Minister, said that the impact of the protests is serious and still continuing.
Lemer said sales in some restaurants have dropped by 20 to 50 percent. Sales of some shops have dropped by 20 percent to 40 percent. Hotel bookings fell 15 to 25 percent.
The protests continued to spread on Dec. 4, with some members of the group setting fire to the ramparts of Bordeaux and setting off violent demonstrations on highways in Aix-en-Provence and the outskirts of Paris.
In announcing the decision to suspend the fuel tax, French Prime Minister Edward Phillips said that the government shared the sentiments of the protesters in that Paris was working to ultimately reduce taxes and increase employment.
Yellow vests spokesman Benjamin Cauchy told local media that Macron’s decision was a step in the right direction, but that demonstrations would continue. “The French don’t want crumbs, they want a baguette,” he said.
Other members of the protests were even more skeptical about the president’s intentions: “We’re being taken for idiots,” protester Christophe Chalencon told Reuters.
France 24 French Affairs Editor Philip Turle said on Dec. 5 that “99 percent of the ‘yellow vests’ who spoke on French media yesterday were saying that this is definitely not enough, that whatever the prime minister announced on Tuesday, he could have gone a lot further.”
The yellow vests movement owes its name and uniform to the high-visibility neon yellow safety vest that all French drivers are obligated by law to buy and to keep in their vehicles.
The diesel tax struck a nerve in particular because it seemed to fly in the face of decades-long government policy promoting diesel-powered cars among the general public. Many of the protesters were middle-aged French from outside Paris who need to commute for work and shopping.
A wide diversity of political allegiances and groups are involved in the yellow vests protests.
President Macron currently has an approval rating of less than 20 percent for his policies, which are criticized by members of France’s left wing as benefiting corporations at the expense of the common man.
Those of more nationalist persuasion have pointed to Macron’s embrace of globalist positions, such as liberal immigration policy and heavy support for the EU — to the perceived detriment of France and its traditions.
Macron had insisted that increasing fuel taxes could reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and provide funds for investing in renewable energy.
Following the protests and Macron’s announcement that the tax increase would be shelved, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter to reiterate his own criticisms of the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment.”
In a second set of tweets, he said:
“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protestors in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago. The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters…in the world.”
The Trump administration announced its intent to withdraw the United States from the Agreement in 2020 — the earliest legal date.
In response to Trump’s tweets, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday, Dec. 9, that the U.S. president should not meddle in French domestic affairs.