In November 2018, French president Emmanuel Macron proposed a policy that would add an increased tax onto the sale of diesel fuel, part of an effort to encourage the use of safer, cleaner fuels for transportation. Such a tax doesn’t present much of an issue in France’s big cities, where people mostly rely on public transit and a rising economy to support them. The real issue that such a tax presents is that people living in rural France, where there is little public transit infrastructure and a declining economy, would then have to pay upwards of ten dollars per gallon (roughly €2.26/liter) on fuel. The proposal caused a few dozen people living near the city of Rouen, in Normandy, to block roundabouts and start bonfires in protest to the proposed tax, all donned their government mandated yellow motorist vests.
The small protest in Rouen grew exponentially in the following days, with nearly three hundred thousand protesters taking to the streets in France’s biggest cities during the peak of the protests on November 17. Protesters were unified by their matching yellow vests and dissatisfaction with their president. The French government had an immediate response to the protests with eight thousand riot police officers in the streets of Paris alone. The initial tactic police used was arresting violent protesters after they had committed any crimes. They quickly bolstered security with hundreds of checkpoints throughout the city, each with officers armed with assault rifles issuing pat downs and bag searches to prevent violence and vandalism before it could happen. This lesson was learned after the night of December 1st, when an estimated 3,000 protesters violently clashed with police, some even setting fire to several buildings and over 100 cars.
Protests in France have mostly died down since the beginning of January, with the size of protests dwindling as more of the “Yellow Vests’ ” demands have been met by the French government. President Macron addressed the country in a live broadcast after a few weekends of intense protests in Paris, saying, “We are at a historic moment for our country,” attempting to rally his country back together by adding, “My only concern is for you, my only fight is for you.” Macron promised to raise the monthly minimum wage in France, then scrapped the fuel tax proposal on December 5th, just one day after he announced a six month freeze on the policy. In January, Macron organized two months of town hall debates, which proved fairly popular. The debates have brought in many citizens, speaking on such topics as speed limits and healthcare, and have been a significant part of why protests have gone down in size over the past couple months.
One of the biggest parts of why the Yellow Vest movement started was dissatisfaction with President Macron’s treatment toward businesses, cutting taxes for large businesses and calling those who oppose his reforms “lazy,” and characterized the French people as “Gauls who are resistant to change.” France’s push for employment in cities has also left those living in rural areas behind, with dwindling economies and more people moving to cities for work.