Yellow Vests Movement

Emmanuel MacronPresident of France Édouard PhilippePrime Minister of France Christophe CastanerMinister of Interior Richard LizureyHead of the National Gendarmerie The yellow vests movement or yellow jackets movement (French: Mouvement des gilets jaunes, pronounced ) is a populist, grassroots political movement for economic justice that began in France in November 2018. After an online petition posted in May had attracted nearly a million signatures, mass demonstrations began on 17 November. The movement is motivated by rising fuel prices, high cost of living, and claims that a disproportionate burden of the government's tax reforms were falling on the working and middle classes, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. The protesters have called for lower fuel taxes, reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum wage increase, the implementation of Citizens' initiative referendums and Emmanuel Macron's resignation as President of France and his government. The movement spans the political spectrum. According to one poll, few of those protesting had voted for Macron in the 2017 French presidential election, and many had either not voted, or had voted for far-right or far-left candidates.

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Yellow vests movement
Gilets jaunes protests
Part of protests against Emmanuel Macron
A Gilets jaunes demonstration in Belfort, eastern France
Date17 November 2018 – present
Location
 France
Caused by
Goals
Methods
StatusOngoing
Concessions
given
  • Cancellation of fuel tax and six-month moratorium on diesel and petrol price changes[38]
  • Promise that most would see an effective raise in the minimum wage of €100 per month by 2019[39]
  • Announcement that price of Électricité de France blue tariffs would not increase before March 2019[40]
  • Elimination of tax on overtime and end-of-year bonuses[41]
Parties to the civil conflict
Gilets jaunes
Lead figures
Non-centralised leadership

France Emmanuel Macron
President of France

France Édouard Philippe
Prime Minister of France

France Christophe Castaner
Minister of Interior

France Richard Lizurey
Head of the National Gendarmerie

France Bruno Le Maire
Minister of Economy
Number
287,710 protesters (peak)[43]
8,000 police (15 Dec. 2018: Paris)
Casualties
Death(s)15 civilians (12 in France[44] and 3 in Belgium[45])
Injuries1,843+ civilians
~1,048+ injured police officers[46]
Arrested1,600 people (as of 4 December 2018)[47]
More than 2,300 (8 December 2018 alone)[48]

The yellow vests movement or yellow jackets movement (French: Mouvement des gilets jaunes, pronounced [muvmɑ̃ de ʒilɛ ʒon]) is a populist,[49] grassroots[50] political movement for economic justice[51] that began in France in November 2018. After an online petition posted in May had attracted nearly a million signatures, mass demonstrations began on 17 November.[52] The movement is motivated by rising fuel prices, high cost of living, and claims that a disproportionate burden of the government's tax reforms were falling on the working and middle classes,[53][54][55] especially in rural and peri-urban areas.[25][56] The protesters have called for lower fuel taxes, reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum wage increase, the implementation of Citizens' initiative referendums[57] and Emmanuel Macron's resignation as President of France and his government. The movement spans the political spectrum. According to one poll, few of those protesting had voted for Macron in the 2017 French presidential election, and many had either not voted, or had voted for far-right or far-left candidates.[58]

Rising fuel prices initially sparked the demonstrations, and yellow high-visibility vests, which French law required all drivers to have in their vehicles and to wear during emergencies, were chosen as "a unifying thread and call to arms" because of their convenience, visibility, ubiquity, and association with working-class industries.[59] The protests have involved demonstrations and the blocking of roads and fuel depots. Some of the protests developed into major riots,[60] described as the most violent since those of May 1968.[61]

Since the French yellow vests or Gilets jaunes movement has gained international attention, protesters—some with similar grievances and others entirely unrelated—have used the yellow vest symbol in many places around the world.[62][63]

Background

The issue on which the French movement centred at first was the projected 2019 increase in fuel taxes, particularly on diesel fuel.[64] The yellow vest became the symbol of the protests, as the French are required to have a yellow vest in their vehicles.

General discontentment

Already low in early 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron's approval rating had dipped below 25% at the beginning of the movement.[65] The government's method of curbing the budget deficit had proven unpopular, with Macron being dubbed the président des très riches on Quotidien by his former boss, François Hollande.[66]

In June 2017, Macron's Minister of Justice, François Bayrou, had come under pressure to resign, due to the ongoing investigation into the financial arrangements of the political party (MoDem) he presides.[67][68] During a radio interview in August 2018, Nicolas Hulot had resigned from the Ministry of the Environment, without telling either the President or the Prime Minister of his plans to do so.[69] Criticized for his role in the Benalla affair, Gérard Collomb tried to resign in October 2018 as Minister of the Interior—leaving himself with only two jobs, i.e. senator and mayor of Lyon—but saw his resignation initially refused, then finally accepted.[70][71]

Diesel

In the 1950s, diesel engines were used only in heavy equipment so, to help the post-war productive effort, the French government granted lower taxes. The 1979 oil crisis prompted efforts to curb petrol (gasoline) use, while taking advantage of diesel fuel availability and diesel engine efficiency. The French manufacturer Peugeot has been at the forefront of diesel technology, and from the 1980s, the French government favoured this technology. A reduction in VAT taxes for corporate fleets also increased the prevalence of diesel cars in France.[72]

Fuel prices

The price of petrol (SP95-E10) decreased during 2018, from €1.47 per litre in January to €1.43 per litre in the last week of November.[73]

Prices of petrol and diesel fuel increased by 15 percent and 23 percent respectively between October 2017 and October 2018.[74] The world market purchase price of petrol for distributors increased by 28 percent over the previous year; for diesel, by 35 percent. Costs of distribution increased by 40 percent. VAT included, diesel taxes increased by 14 percent over one year and petrol taxes by 7.5 percent.[74] The tax increase had been 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol in 2018, with a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol planned for 1 January 2019.[75][76]

The taxes collected on the sale of fuel are:

  • The domestic consumption tax on energy products (TICPE, la Taxe intérieure de consommation sur les produits énergétiques), which is not calculated based on the price of oil, but rather at a fixed rate by volume. Part of this tax, paid at the pump, goes to regional governments, while another portion goes to the national government. Since 2014, this tax has included a carbon componentincreased each yearin an effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The TICPE for diesel fuel was raised sharply in 2017 and 2018 to bring it to the same level as the tax on petrol.
  • Value added tax (VAT), calculated on the sum of the price excluding tax and the TICPE. Its rate has been stable at 20 percent since 2014, after having been at 19.6 percent between 2000 and 2014.

The protest movement against fuel prices mainly concerns individuals, as a number of professions and activities benefit from partial or total exemptions from TICPE.[77][78]

The protesters criticise Édouard Philippe's second government for making individuals liable for the bulk of the cost of the carbon tax. As the carbon tax has progressively been ramping up to meet ecological objectives, many who have chosen fossil fuel-based heating for their homes, outside of city centreswhere a car is requiredare displeased. President Macron attempted to dispel these concerns in early November by offering special subsidies and incentives.[79]

Diesel prices in France increased by 16 percent in 2018, with taxes on both petrol and diesel increasing at the same time and a further tax increase planned for 2019, making diesel as expensive as petrol.[80] President Macron is bearing the brunt of the protesters' anger for his extension of policies implemented under François Hollande's government.[80]

Speed limit reduction

The government's decision last year to cut the speed limit on country roads from 1 July 2018 from 90 to 80km/h, despite opposition, was a factor in the rise of the movement, being seen as a failure to understand the needs of rural residents who are totally reliant on their cars. The vandalisation of traffic enforcement cameras grew significantly after the yellow vest movement began.[81][82][83]

Economic reforms

The protesters claim that the fuel tax is intended to finance tax cuts for big business, with some critics such as Dania Koleilat Khatib claiming that spending should be cut instead.[84][85] Macron said the goal of the administration's economic reform program is to increase France's competitiveness in the global economy, and says that the fuel tax is intended to discourage fossil-fuel use.[79] Many of the yellow jackets are primarily motivated by economic difficulties due to low salaries and high energy prices.[86] The majority of the yellow jacket movement wants to fight climate change, but are opposed to forcing the working class and the poor to pay for a problem caused by multinational corporations.[87][88]

Yellow vest symbol

A high-visibility vest, the key symbol of the protests

No one knows how the high-visibility yellow vest came to be chosen as the symbol and uniform for the movement, and no one has claimed to be its originator.[59] The movement originated with French motorists from rural areas who had long commutes protesting against an increase in fuel taxes, wearing the yellow vests that, under a 2008 French law, all motorists are required to keep in their vehicles and to wear in case of emergency.[60] The symbol has become "a unifying thread and call to arms" because yellow vests are common and inexpensive, easy to wear over any clothing, associated with working class industries, highly visible, and widely understood as a distress signal.[59] As the movement grew to include grievances beyond fuel taxes, non-motorists in France put on yellow vests and joined the demonstrations, as did protesters in other countries with diverse (and sometimes conflicting) grievances of their own.[59][60] In the words of one commentator, "The uniform of this revolution is as accessible as the frustration and fury."[59]

Origin

A businesswoman named Priscillia Ludosky from the Seine-et-Marne department started a petition on the change.org website in May 2018 that had reached 300,000 signatures by mid-October and close to a million a month later.[52][89][90] Parallel to this petition, two men from the same department launched a Facebook event for 17 November to "block all roads" and thus protest against an increase in fuel prices they considered excessive, stating that this increase was the result of the tax increase. One of the viral videos around this group launched the idea of using yellow jackets.[91]

A gilets jaunes demonstration on 17 November

The movement is organised in a leaderless, horizontal fashion. Informal leaders can emerge, but some have been rejected by other demonstrators and even threatened. According to John Lichfield, some in the movement extend their hatred of politicians even to any "would-be politicians who emerge from their own ranks".[92][93] The yellow jacket movement is not associated with a specific political party or trade union and has spread largely by social media.[94]

The yellow vests movement has been described as a populist,[49][58] grassroots[50] movement for economic justice,[51] opposing what it sees as the wealthy urban elite and the establishment.[95] Many of the protesters live in tight financial circumstances, often in rural or outer-urban areas where there is "weak economic growth and high unemployment", and where depending on a car for transport is "essential, and increasingly costly".[58] According to the BBC, "It’s no accident that cars were the spark that ignited this anger. Not needing one has become a status symbol in France. Those in city centres have a wealth of public transport to choose from, but you need to be rich enough to live in the centre of Paris or Marseille or Bordeaux".[50]

The movement has drawn supporters from across the political spectrum.[49][50][58] An opinion poll published by the Elabe Institute showed that in the presidential election in May 2017, 36% of the participants voted for Marine Le Pen and 28% for Jean-Luc Melenchon in the 2017 presidential elections.[58][96] Five Le Monde journalists studied the yellow vests' forty-two directives[30] and concluded that two-thirds were "very close" to the position of the "radical left" (Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoît Hamon, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud), that nearly half were "compatible with" the position of the "far right" (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Marine Le Pen), and that all were "very far removed" from economically "liberal" policies (Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon).[97] Étienne Girard, writing for Marianne, says the one figure that gathers wide support in the movement has been dead for thirty-two years: the former humourist and presidential candidate Coluche.[98]

Some media outlets were shocked at the hostility they felt during the movement.[99] BFM TV, for example, decided every journalist they sent out should be accompanied by a bodyguard on 8 December,[100] because of the strong aversion the yellow jackets had shown for the network.[99][100] About three weeks later, 25 yellow vests prevented Ouest-France from being delivered in parts of the Vendée and Loire-Atlantique because they did not like an editorial.[101][102]

A gilets jaunes demonstration on boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, 5 January 2019

According to Stéphane Sirot, a specialist in the history of French trade unionism, the unions were hesitant to join forces with the yellow jackets because the movement included people trade unions traditionally do not represent (business owners and the self-employed) as well as people who simply did not want to negotiate. The presence of far-right elements in the movement was also off-putting to the CGT.[103]

A significant number of misleading images and information have been circulated on social media concerning the protests. According to Pascal Froissart, the leaderless, horizontal aspect of the movement contributes to the dissemination of disinformation, as nobody is in charge of public relations or social media messaging.[104]

One of the goals of the Yellow Jackets is to obtain the right to direct initiative, in other words the right to petition the government at any time to propose or repeal a law, to amend the constitution or remove a public official from office. The bottom-up Swiss model of government, where referendums are frequent, has been compared to the top-down French governmental system to explain the lack of a similar movement in French-speaking Switzerland.[105][106] Étienne Chouard, and a retired dentist named Yvan Bachaud, who named the RIC, were among the earliest proponents of such referenda.[107] More recently, several politicians included the idea in their 2017 presidential platforms.[108][109][110]

Timeline

Gilets jaunes protest on motorway A51, near Grenoble, Isère

17 November: "Act I"

A protest on 17 November cutting the road near Belfort. "Motorists, citizens: we are being lied to, swindled, dispossessed, and scorned; but now the scorned are in the streets, and the scornful will be removed from power!"

The protests began on 17 November 2018, and attracted more than 300,000 people across France with protesters constructing barricades and blocking roads.[75][111] John Lichfield, a journalist who witnessed the riots, described them as insurrectional.[112]

In addition to roads, protesters also blocked as many as ten fuel depots.[113] On this first day of protests, a 63-year-old pensioner was run over by a motorist in Le Pont-de-Beauvoisin while she was demonstrating at a roundabout at the entrance to a commercial zone.[91][114] A motorcyclist died after being struck the same day by a van trying to get around a barricade.[115] By 21 November 585 civilians had been injured, sixteen severely, and 115 police officers, three seriously.[116]

Protests also occurred in the French overseas region of Réunion, where the situation deteriorated into looting and riots. Schools on the island were closed for three days after protesters blocked access to roads. On 21 November, President Macron ordered the deployment of troops to the island to calm the violence.[117]

24 November: "Act II"

With the protests in Paris having raised tensions the previous week, the Interior Ministry agreed to allow a gathering on 24 November at the Champ de Mars.[117] The protests attracted 106,000 people all across France,[118] only 8,000 of whom were in Paris, where the protests turned violent. Protesters lit fires in the streets, tore down signs, built barricades and pulled up cobblestones. Police resorted to tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters.[75] On 26 November, an official estimated that the riots in Paris during the two previous days had cost up to €1.5m in damage. Two hundred additional workers were assigned to assist with the cleanup and repair work.[119]

1 December: "Act III"

A gilets jaunes demonstration in Belfort on 1 December

A protest called "Act 3 – Macron Quits" was organised for 1 December.[120]

Yellow jackets briefly occupied the runway at Nantes Atlantique Airport and prevented access to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport. Vinci Autoroutes reported tollbooths were blocked on 20 major arteries all across France.[121][122][123]

In Marseille, where demonstrations have been frequent since the 5 November collapse of a building and the evacuation of the surrounding neighbourhood,[124] an 80-year-old Algerian woman trying to close her shutters was hit by shards from a police tear gas canister, later dying while in surgery.[125][126] A second motorist was killed on the third weekend after crashing his van into stopped lorries at a barricade on the Arles bypass.[115]

More than 100 cars were burned in Paris during the protest on 1 December, and the Arc de Triomphe was vandalised.[112] On the following Monday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo estimated the property damages at €3–4 million.[125]

8 December: "Act IV"

A gilets jaunes demonstration in Paris

Protests turned violent for the second week in a row in Le Puy-en-Velay. Civil unrest marred the Festival of Lights in both Lyon and Saint-Étienne.[127] The A6 motorway was again blocked north of Lyon in Villefranche-sur-Saône.[128]

In Bordeaux, after two hours of skirmishes between the police and protesters, rioters took advantage of the situation to set fires and pillage the local Apple Store.[129]

Paris experienced protests for the fourth consecutive week. Many shops were boarded up in anticipation of violence, with The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera also closed.[130] Police assembled steel fences around the Élysée Palace and deployed armoured vehicles on the streets in an attempt to limit the violence.[130]

10 December: Macron's televised address

In his 10 December speech to the French people in response to the movement, Macron pledged a €100 per month increase in the minimum wage in 2019, the exclusion of charges and taxes on overtime hours in 2019, and on any 2018 end-of-year bonuses paid to employees. Macron likewise announced that pensioners on low incomes would be excluded from an increase in the CSG in 2019. He stood by his replacement of the solidarity tax on wealth with increases in property taxes.[39][131] The broadcast was watched by more than 23 million people, making it the most-viewed political speech in French history.[132] After investigation, it became apparent that the minimum wage itself would not be raised by €100 a month but that those eligible would see an increase in the activity bonus paid by the CAF.[133]

On 11 December, after having declared a state of economic and social emergency the day before, Macron invited representatives of the French banks to the Elysée to announce that the banks had agreed to freeze their prices in 2019 and to permanently limit incident-related fees to €25 a month for people in extreme financial difficulty, as determined by the Bank of France.[134]

15 December: "Act V"

In the wake of the 2018 Strasbourg attack, the government asked protesters to stay off the streets. According to the Paris prefecture estimates, there were 8,000 police for 2,200 demonstrators in Paris.[135] The Minister of the Interior estimated that 66,000 people protested in France on 15 December. Conflict arose in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon and Paris. At the end of the day, the Interior Minister called for the roundabouts, occupied since 17 November, to be liberated.[136]

22 December: "Act VI"

Demonstrations continued throughout the country. The Ministry of the Interior announced a participation figure almost half that of the previous week with 38,600 demonstrators throughout France, including 2,000 in Paris according to the Prefecture of Police.[137][138] Versailles Palace was preventively closed for the day.[139] Éric Drouet, the 33-year-old truck driver who is one of the most followed yellow jackets on Facebook, was arrested for organising an undeclared demonstration and participating in a violent assembly. He had called on Facebook for demonstrators to meet at Versailles but then revised the call to Montmartre after it had been announced that Versailles would be closed. Authorities say that Drouet was carrying a truncheon and would be summoned in court where they would seek to prevent him from coming to Paris.[140]

Protesters blocked border traffic to Switzerland at Cluse-et-Mijoux. They were dispersed after one hour by police.[141] Similar operations were conducted at the Spanish, Italian, German, and Belgian borders.[141] Two distribution platforms were blocked in Montélimar: EasyDis (Groupe Casino) and Amazon.[142][143]

Overall, at least 220 people were arrested in the country, including 142 in Paris.[144] A motorist was killed on 21 December when his car hit a truck that was stopped at a blockade in Perpignan, the tenth fatality overall.[138]

29 December: "Act VII"

A gilets jaunes demonstration in Belfort on 29 December

Much quieter than in the first weeks on a national level, there was a significant confrontation in Rouen, Normandy, after fires were set in front of the local branch of the Banque de France.[145]

In Paris, the protesters demonstrated in front of the headquarters of BFM-TV, Libération and France Télévisions. Victor Glad suggests that the same crisis of representation motivating the citizens' initiative referenda is also behind the gilets jaunes' criticism of the traditional media.[146]

5 January: "Act VIII"

According to French Ministry of the Interior, the first demonstrations of 2019 brought 50,000 people into the streets across France. A door to Rennes' city hall was damaged, while government Spokesman Benjamin Griveaux was evacuated from his office on Rue de Grenelle (Paris) through the garden, after rioters hijacked a forklift to break down the door to the Ministry. There were also skirmishes in Bordeaux, Nantes, Caen & Rennes.[148]

Women's role, both in defining the movement's objectives[52][149] and in communicating at roundabouts,[150] isfor editorialist Pierre Rimberta reflection of the fact that women make up the majority of workers in "intermediary professions" but are three times more likely to be classed as "employees" than men according to an INSEE study in 2017.[151][152]

In the eighth week, women organized separate demonstrations in Paris, Toulouse and Caen. According to one of the organizers, the goal was to have a "channel of communication other than violence".[153]

The interior minister announced that over 60% of the traffic enforcement cameras in the country had been vandalised.[154] This was up from estimates of 50% in early December.[155]

12 January: "Act IX"

Nice, 12 January 2019

Attendance increased in the ninth straight weekend of protests, with at least 84,000 demonstrating on 12 January for economic reform across France, including 8,000 in Paris, 6,000 in Bourges, 6,000 in Bordeaux, and 2,000 in Strasbourg.[156][157][158] Government officials deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide, vowing "zero tolerance" for violence.[158] The CRS (riot police) resorted to tear gas in most major cities.[156]

On the streets of Paris, protesters marching "noisily but mostly peacefully",[157] singing the French national anthem, were met by 5,000 riot police officers, armored vehicles and barricades.[158] Citing the 5 January attack on the Dijon gendarmerie and terror threats, the police communication service said that some CRS agents were authorized to carry semi-automatic weapons. This was confirmed by the Paris prefecture.[159][160] Small groups of people left the designated protest route and threw projectiles at police.[157] Around the Arc de Triomphe, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas at protesters after being hit with stones and paint.[157] 244 people were arrested nationwide; 156 in Paris.[157][158]

A "massive"[157] gas explosion caused by an apparent gas leak in a bakery in northern Paris killed four people, including two firefighters already at the scene investigating the leak, and injured dozens more.[157][161] The explosions occurred early on 12 January,[157] while Paris was under heavy guard in anticipation of the day's demonstrations.[161] The French Interior Minister told the media that "responsibility triumphed over the temptation of confrontation" and that protesters marched in Paris "without serious incident".[158]

19 January: "Act X"

tribute to the dead during the movement (Paris, act 10)

As in week IX, police estimated that 84,000 people demonstrated across France, including a peak of 10,000 in Toulouse for a short period, 7,000 in Paris (where protesters demonstrated on the Left Bank for the first time), 4,000 in Bordeaux, and 2,500 in both Marseille and Angers.[162] This weekly protest is the first to happen after the launch of the "Great National Debate" by President Emmanuel Macron.

26 January: "Act XI"

Nationwide demonstrations continued for an eleventh straight week on Saturday, 26 January. The French interior ministry estimated crowds of 69,000 across the country, and local police estimated 4,000 in Paris. A high-profile member of the protest movement, Jérôme Rodrigues, was maimed after being shot in the face by police with a flash-ball launcher, resulting in the loss of his right eye. Dozens of people have been similarly injured during the course of the yellow vests protests.[163] "I was deliberately targeted. I am a figure of the movement, at least in the Paris protests, and police pointed their fingers at me many times during previous demonstrations, so I think they knew very well who they were shooting at," Rodrigues told the media.[164] The following day, an estimated 10,000 people marched in Paris in a foulards rouges ("red scarves") counter-protest in opposition to the yellow vests.[163][164]

2 February: "Act XII"

On Friday, 1 February 2019, Edouard Philippe went to Bordeaux and informed merchants that an agreement had been found with insurers to treat insurance damage claims in successive weeks as part of a single event (with a single deductible). He also announced that the ten cities most affected by degradations, including Bordeaux, would receive €300,000.[165] In Valence, the downtown shopping district was boarded up, trash cans, park benches and protective fencing were removed. Paving stones had been tarred over to eliminate the risk of their being used as projectiles.[166] According to the préfecture, 1850 people demonstrated in downtown Tours, which had likewise been boarded up.[167]

On Saturday, 2 February, between 10,000 and 13,800 people protested in Paris,[168][169] with thousands more in Tours, Valence, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and other French cities.[168][169]

The demonstrations of "Act XII" focused on denouncing the number of serious injuries caused by police violence during anti-government demonstrations.[169][170] According to the French government, around 2,000 civilians were injured in protests between November 2018 and February 2019, including four serious eye injuries.[170] The government agency that investigates police abuses has opened 116 investigations into police conduct during the protests, ten of which concern serious eye injuries suffered by protesters.[169] A group of 59 lawyers published an open letter denouncing the treatment of protesters in the courts, including rushed judgments against protesters without regard for their rights, which they contrasted with the slow pace of investigations into reports of police violence.[169]

Earlier in the week, France's highest court denied a request to ban police from using "flash balls" or "defensive ball launchers", known as LBDs, that shoot 40 millimetres (1.6 in) rubber projectiles, which have been blamed for a number of serious injuries.[169] French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner admitted in media interviews that the weapon could cause injuries and had been used more than 9,000 times since yellow vests demonstrations began.[169] The day before the Act XII protests, the government warned the public that police would not hesitate to use the weapons to combat violence by demonstrators, since they had been authorized by the court.[168][170] On Saturday, thousands in Paris participated in a "march of the injured" calling for the weapon to be banned.[169] Injured protesters marched at the front, some wearing eye patches with a target sign on them.[168] Jerome Rodrigues, a well-known participant in the movement who lost an eye in the previous week's demonstrations, was received warmly with applause by the crowds.[169][170]

Most of the demonstrations during Act XII were peaceful.[170] As in prior weeks, 80,000 security officials had been mobilized, including 5,000 in Paris.[168] In Paris, police used tear gas and water cannons at Place de la Republique in the city centre to force demonstrators back after clashes with protesters, some hooded or masked, and some who set fire to bins and a scooter. Despite these incidents, the media reported that demonstrations "remained relatively calm compared to previous weekends."[170] Two police officers were injured and two protesters arrested in Morlaix; two officers injured and one demonstrator arrested in Nantes; and in Lille, where between 1,800 and 3,000 protesters marched, 20 were arrested.[169]

The twelfth week of protests occurred as the French parliament was considering a new law proposed by Macron's governing party restricting the right to protest. The proposed law would outlaw covering one's face during a street demonstration (whether with a helmet, mask, or scarf), punishable by a €15,000 fine or imprisonment,[171] and allow local police to establish blacklists of people not allowed to participate in street protests.[170][169][171] The proposed law was opposed by some members of parliament inside and outside Macron's party.[171]

Fatalities and injuries

A demonstrator holding a sign referring to a victim of violence, during a protest in Tours

As of 22 December, 10 fatalities had been linked to the protests in France.[44]

Fatalities
Date Number Context
17 November 1pedestrian + car[115]
19 November 1motorbike + lorry[115]
1/2 December 1car + HGV/LGV[115]
1 December 1stray tear gas grenade (Marseille)[125][126]
10 December 1car + HGV/LGV[172]
12/13 December 1pedestrian + HGV/LGV[172]
14 December 2car + HGV/LGV[173]
car + car[174]
20 December 1pedestrian + truck[175]
22 December 1car + truck [44]

By late December, over 1,843 protesters and 1,048 police had been injured.[176] Injuries included tens of facial trauma (jaws or even eyes) caused by police non-lethal weapon ammunition,[177] nicknamed flash-ball despite not being of the type,[178][179] that are supposed to be fired at the torso, not at the head, and are accurate enough for this purpose.[180]

As of 14 January, 94 had been seriously injured, including 14 monocular blindness and one person still in coma, had been reported [181][182]

Impact

Adama Committee and Nuit Debout

On 29 November, François Ruffin, the founder of hard-left Fakir magazine, organised a mobilising meeting with various French left-wing movements, at which Frédéric Lordon spoke of the Yellow Vests, saying "If the Nuitdeboutistes who got all wound up into deforestation and anti-specist commissions can't get moving when this happens, then they are the last of the last".[183]

Students protesting against the government's educational reforms

Angered by Macron's education reforms and plans to change the baccalauréat (a secondary-school leaving exam), students protested in cities across France.[184] Students expressed concern that these reforms will lead to further inequalities of access to higher education between students in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas.[185][186][187]

On 6 December, over 140 students were arrested outside a school in Mantes-la-Jolie. A video of the mass arrest—showing students kneeling with their hands behind their heads—inspired indignation.[188] Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French Education Minister, said that although he was "shocked" by the scene, it needed to be viewed "in context".[189][190] Amnesty International issued a report about the incident.[147] On the same day, France Bleu reported that Saint-Étienne was "under siege".[191] It was in this context that the mayor of Saint-Étienne suggested, first by tweet then by press release, that the Festival of Lights in neighbouring Lyon be cancelled to free up police in the region.[192]

University students have reportedly joined the movement, denouncing the planned increase of tuition fees for foreign students from non-EU countries.[193]

Christmas shopping season

Overall, by mid-December, trade losses of €2 billion had been reported as a result of the blocked roundabouts leading to commercial zones and the closures of urban chains. The chain supermarkets, in particular, reported that traffic has been down significantly, estimating the overall loss at around €600 million as of 13 December.[194]

A terror attack on 11 December 2018 at the Strasbourg Christmas market contributed to heightened public security concerns and smaller demonstrations in Act V. Conspiracy theories began to be circulated on social media forthwith, suggesting that the attack, which had been perpetrated by a 29-year old man with multiple criminal convictions, was in fact a manufactured event.[195][196]

Vinci growth

Vinci SA, which operates roughly half of France's highway concessions, attributed the protests to the negation of its motorway sector growth, stating in its annual report to investors that traffic had dropped nine percent in the final three months of 2018 as a result of the protests.[197] CEO Xavier Huillard said the fourth quarter loss "wiped out the increase in traffic of the first 10 months".[198]

Cultural impact

A video of comedian Anne-Sophie Bajon, known as Labajon, in the role of Emmanuel Macron's lawyer wearing a yellow vest, has been seen several million times on social networks.[199] Dancer Nadia Vadori-Gauthier improvised a choreography in the street during demonstrations with the fumes of the various gases and fires of cars.[200] On 15 December 2018, on the sidelines of the demonstration on the Champs-Élysées, Deborah De Robertis organized a demonstration in which five women appear topless in front of the French police, with a costume reminiscent of the French Goddess of Liberty Marianne.[201] A video of a performance by yellow vests protesters at a roundabout of Michel Fugain's 1975 hit song Les Gentils, Les Méchants ("The Good Ones, The Evil Ones") received over 800,000 views online.[202] A restaurant in Nîmes created a yellow vests-inspired hamburger, served on a bright yellow bun, with a circular "roundabout" beef patty, onions from the vegetable plot of the Élysée Palace, "tear gas" pepper sauce, and "CRS sauce" made of cream, ricotta, and Saint Môret cheese (a reference to the French riot police, the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité).[203]

Reactions and counter-protest

In late November 2018, polls showed that the movement had widespread support in France (ranging from 73[204] to 84 percent).[94] An opinion poll conducted after 1 December events found that 73 percent of French people supported the gilets jaunes and that 85 percent were opposed to the violence in Paris.[205]

Truckers were targeted by protesters, and the industry made their displeasure with the situation known to the government in an open letter.[78] Two labor unions, CGT and FO who had initially called on truckers to start striking on 9 December,[206] retracted their call on 7 December, after having consulted the government and their membership.[207]

The recently-named[208] Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, blamed Marine Le Pen, Macron's opponent in the 2017 presidential election, and her Rassemblement National party for the violence on 24 November 2018 after she had reportedly urged people to go to the Champs Élysées.[118] Le Pen responded that letting people assemble on the Champs Élysées was the government's responsibility and accused the Minister of the Interior of trying to increase the tension to discredit the movement.[118]

Although President Macron had been insisting that the fuel tax increases would go through as planned, on 4 December 2018 the government announced that the tax rises would be put on hold, with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe saying that "no tax deserves to endanger the unity of the nation".[31][209]

In early December 2018, the prime minister announced that the price of the Électricité de France blue tariffs would not increase before March 2019.[40]

On Sunday, 9 December, the Elysée called trade unions and employers' organizations to invite them to meet on Monday 10 December so Macron could "present the measures" he intended to announce later in the day.[210] On 10 December, Macron condemned the violence but acknowledged the protesters' anger as "deep, and in many ways legitimate".[211] He subsequently promised a minimum wage increase of €100 per month from 2019, cancelled a planned tax increase for low-income pensioners, and made overtime payments as well as end-of-year bonuses tax free.[211][212] However, Macron refused to reinstate a wealth tax he scrapped upon entering into office.[213][214] Amnesty International called on police to "end use of excessive force against protesters and high school children in France".[147][215]

Police, unlike other public sector employees, either saw their wages raised by €120–150 per month by an agreement signed on 20 December,[216] or received an annual €300 bonus by an amendment voted into law the previous day.[217] Nicolas Chapuis, writing for Le Monde, says this was likely due to 85% turnout in recent police union elections and the exceptional levels of activity.[216]

Comparisons

Adam Gopnik writes that gilets jaunes can be viewed as part of a series of French street protests stretching back to at least the strikes of 1995. Citing historian Herrick Chapman, he suggests General de Gaulle's centralisation of power when creating the French Fifth Republic was so excessive that it made street protests the only "dynamic alternative to government policy".[218]

The 1 December riots in Paris were widely acknowledged to have been the most violent since May 1968.[61] Paris-based journalist John Lichfield said that the 1968 events had a joyous side to them, largely absent from the yellow vest movement, but that both movements were similar in that they lacked recognized leaders, much as the banlieues riots of 2005 had.[92]

According to French scholar Béatrice Giblin, comparisons between the gilets jaunes and the Bonnets Rougeswho opposed a new eco-tax in 2013were inapt because the latter "had been taken in hand by real leaders, such as the mayor of Carhaix, or the great bosses of Brittany" whereas that was not the case for the yellow jackets.[219]

Some have compared the yellow vests to other modern populist movements such as the Occupy movement in the United States,[58][220] the Five Star Movement in Italy,[50][58] and Orbanism in Hungary.[218] Others have drawn parallels to popular revolts in late-medieval Europe like the Jacquerie,[221] to Poujadism, to the Brownshirts,[92][222][223] and to the French Revolution.[224][225]

Foulard rouges (red scarves)

On 27 January 2019 a counter-demonstration occurred in Paris by a group identifying themselves by the foulards rouges ("red scarves") they chose to wear. They put out a joint statement with other groups saying: "We denounce the insurrectional climate installed by the yellow vests. We also reject the threats and constant verbal abuse (aimed at non-yellow vests)".[226][227][228]

Protests outside France adopting yellow vests as a symbol

The largest "yellow vest" protest outside France was held in Taipei with over 10,000 demonstrating on 19 December. Their principal concern was tax justice.[229][230] Some protests in other countries are related to the central concerns of the French movement (taxation, high-living costs, representation, and income disparity). Others are related primarily by the use of the readily-available symbol.

Belgium

A gilets jaunes demonstration in Brussels, Belgium

Riot police in Brussels were pelted with billiard balls, cobblestones and rocks on 30 November, and responded with water cannons; 60 arrests were made for disturbing the public order.[231] Several oil depots had been blocked in Wallonia as of 16 November 2018, though protesters' attempts to block the Russian Lukoil depot in Brussels were quickly thwarted by police.[2] Some members of the movement began working to form a party for the Belgian federal elections in 2019 under the name Mouvement citoyen belge.[2][232] On 8 December, when protesters calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel tried to breach a riot barricade, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. The protesters involved were throwing stones, flares and other objects at police, resulting in around 100 arrests.[233]

As of 12 January, three people had lost their lives during gilets jaunes actions in Belgium: two drivers were killed mid-December when they were surprised by traffic queues caused by roadblocks and one protester was fatally hit by a truck when his group tried to block the E25 highway between Liège and Maastricht on 11 January.[45]

Other countries or regions

  • Australia: The Australian Yellow Vest Alliance, describing themselves as a "family-friendly social movement who wants a government run by the people, for the people" held a series of small, peaceful gatherings across the country, mostly advertised on social media, on 19 January 2019.[234][235][236]
  • Bulgaria: Anti-government protesters in Bulgaria began wearing high-visibility vests from 16 November.[3]
  • Canada: Beginning in late December, various yellow-vest wearing protest movements have been seen across the country. However, protests have remained relatively smaller, and non-violent. Groups of various protesters wearing yellow vests have taken place in at least a dozen cities and towns across Canada as of January 2019. The movement in Canada is largely focused against the carbon price, the endorsement of the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), the federal Liberal government, and a wide range of topics.[237][238] The protesters have largely consisted of right-wing supporters, some of whom have been criticized for allegedly holding far-right and xenophobic views due to their protests against Illegal Immigration. Although there have been counter-yellow-vest protests in parts of Canada, there have been no reports of police clashes or vandalism as of 20 January 2019.[239][240]
  • Croatia: On 15 December 2018, "Yellow Vests Croatia" held demonstrations in Zagreb, Pula and Rijeka.[6]
  • Egypt: A lawyer was detained for 15 days after posting a picture of himself wearing a high-visibility jacket in support of the protests in France.[241] Sales restrictions on yellow reflective vests were introduced in an attempt to prevent opposition groups.[242][243]
  • Finland: Anti-immigration protesters, who had begun demonstrations before the rise of the yellow vests movement, have adopted the yellow vest symbol, beginning with a demonstration on 17 December.[7]
  • Germany: The yellow vests symbol was used both by the left and right-wing groups, including Pegida and Aufstehen, who demonstrated at the Brandenburg Gate and in Dresden and Munich.[244][245]
  • Iraq: On 5 December, yellow-vest-inspired protesters demonstrated in Basra, Iraq, for more job opportunities and better services. They were reportedly fired upon with live ammunition.[9]
  • Ireland: On 22 December, Hundreds attended a yellow vests protest in the centre of Dublin against 'the perceived failures of the Government'.[246]
  • Israel: Economic uncertainty and corruption led to a yellow vest rally at the Azrieli Centre Mall in Tel Aviv on 14 December.[11]
  • Italy: The yellow vests symbol has been used by multiple protest groups in Italy. In November 2018, a pro-Italian government, anti-EU protest group launched a Facebook page with thousands of online supporters, stating it was "inspired by the French gilet jaunes".[247] On 15 December, several thousand people wearing yellow vests marched in Rome to protest against Italy's "tough new anti-migrant law".[12] In January 2019, the leaders of Italy's ruling government coalition announced their support for the gilet jaunes protests in France. AFP reported that it is "extremely rare for European leaders to back anti-government protesters in a fellow member state".[248]
  • Latvia: Foundation "Tautas varas fronte" ("Front of the people power"). On 20 January leaders of foundation started the campaign of yellow vests. Riga, 20 January 2019
  • Netherlands: On 1 December, a small number of yellow vest demonstrators protested in Dutch cities. Further demonstrations occurred on 8 December, where peaceful protesters marched through Rotterdam.[15][233]
  • Pakistan: Hundreds of engineers staged a day long protested at Lahore wearing yellow vests.[16][249]
  • Poland: On 12 December, a group of farmers blocked the A2 motorway 30 kilometers outside of Warsaw, demanding compensation for pigs they were required to slaughter, and protesting the importation of Ukrainian agricultural products unlabeled with respect to their country of origin. The agricultural minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski met with the protesters to explain that their demands were met already.[250]
  • Portugal: On 21 December 2018, a coletes amarelos (yellow vest) rally was held under the slogan Vamos Parar Portugal ("Let's Bring Portugal to a Halt").[17]
  • Russia: On 23 December 2018, Blue Bucket demonstrators at Sokolniki Park wore yellow vests at a rally against parking fee increases in Moscow.[18]
  • Serbia: A civil rights organisation Združena akcija Krov nad glavom started using yellow vests in its protests to oppose the eviction of a resident in the Mirijevo district of Belgrade and to show solidarity and common cause with French Yellow vest movement.[19] Parallel to that, on 4 December, Boško Obradović, the leader of the far-right Dveri party, called for demonstrations about high fuel prices in Serbia on 8 December.[251]
  • Taiwan: The Tax and Legal Reform League, demonstrating for tax justice since December 2016,[252] organized a yellow vests march on 19 December.[229]
  • Tunisia: A derivative group, the gilets rouges ("red vests"), emerged on Facebook, calling for protests against the economic situation in the country.[253]
  • United Kingdom: Right wing, pro-Brexit groups involved in small-scale protests in London and other UK cities have appropriated[254] or "hijack[ed]"[255] the yellow vests symbol.[256]

Notable members

See also

References

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