Violent Political Unrest In Paris Caused By ‘Yellow Vests’ Movement


The city of Paris has been overwhelmed with violent protests over the past three weekends, with attractions, shops and restaurants forced to shut as authorities warned of another looming wave of violence. The protesters, known as the ‘Yellow Vests’ or gilets jaunes due to their signature high-visibility vests, first took to the streets on November 17th in response to a government ruling to increase fuel taxes. The protests have since intensified into a wave of anger and discontent, with demands for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation. According to Sky News (6th Dec), the rioting and looting, described as the capital’s worst in decades, has resulted in more than 130 people injured and 412 arrested.

 

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that a total of 89,000 police officers and numerous armored vehicles will be deployed nationwide, with 8,000 officers in the capital alone, as reported by the BBC (7th Dec). “We are facing people who are not here to protest, but to smash and we want to have the means to not give them a free rein,” he added, suggesting the involvement of activists from the far right and far left. The French government has retracted the tax reforms in attempt to defuse the unrest, but the majority of protesters are still enraged towards President Macron.


This is truly a complex situation for the French government, as the movement is largely leaderless with disparate aims, made up of mostly middle to lower-working class people who feel neglected and frustrated by the politics of the elite upper class. Hence, this unrest cannot be treated like any other; responding with authoritarian force would only provide fuel for the radicals and troublemakers to stoke anger and chaos. While it is imperative for President Macron and his government to tactfully identify and respond to the people’s concerns, it is unrealistic to expect a solution that will solve the myriad of grievances. On the other hand, the protesters should choose representatives to carry across their demands to the government. Without leaders or a common goal, the movement will likely lose its legitimacy, overshadowed by anarchist agendas.

 

Macron originally introduced the tax hikes for diesel-fuelled engines as part of his campaign to combat climate change, hoping such measures would persuade French drivers to adopt less polluting models. According to Bloomberg (11th Dec), the latest move by President Macron saw the government offer handouts and an increased minimum wage along with a Christmas bonus in hopes of appeasing the yellow vests. Public spending is expected to increase by €8 billion to €10 billion, increasing wages for the poorest workers and reducing taxes for pensioners.

 

Overall, as the national crisis in France continues, it serves as a warning and reminder for international leaders to pay attention to the commonly overlooked and increasingly burdened lower middle-class populations in their countries. For France, the resignation of President Macron would certainly shake the country’s economy, not to mention the economies of its European counterparts as well. Furthermore, activists from the far right or far left would certainly seize this opportunity to claim victory, inciting similar movements in other neighbouring countries across Europe.