What’s behind the Yellow Vest Movement
It’s been three weeks since the Yellow Vest movement took to the streets in Paris and many districts across France. More than 500,000 French citizens were estimated to participate in these protests against fuel tax increases.
With little organization and relying mostly on social media, the protests have moved spontaneously across the country, from France’s poor rural regions to the banks of the Seine. It has actually become a collective outcry over deeper problems that have plagued France for years: declining living standards and eroding purchasing power, both of which have worsened in the aftermath of Europe’s long-running financial crisis.
France also has a value added tax (VAT) of 20 percent on most goods and services. Together with the fuel tax, these measures tend to hurt the poor the most.
French economic growth has stagnated for nearly a decade, especially during Europe’s long-running debt crisis. The recovery has been uneven. Large numbers of permanent jobs were wiped out, especially in rural and former industrial areas, and many of the new jobs being created are precarious, temporary contracts. The president, Mr Macron, wanted to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes for France’s wealthiest taxpayers during his first year in office. This included creating a flat tax for capital income. However, the centrepiece of the tax package, which has drawn the most ire from protesters, was the removal of a wealth tax that applied to many assets of France’s richest households, replacing it with one that applied only to their real estate holdings. This lowered by €3.2 billion, or $3.6 billion, the amount of revenue the state received this year.
There has been little evidence of a stimulus effect. Instead, Mr. Macron has earned a reputation for favouring the rich — one of the biggest sources of anger among the Yellow Vest protesters.
Furthermore, unemployment in France has been stuck between 9 and 11 percent since 2009, when the debt crisis hit Europe.
Now that the French government has backtracked on this policy and delayed the implementation of the fuel tax by six months, all are waiting to see the protesters’ response as dissatisfaction for this government is high and questions remain as to how Mr Macron will tackle these problems and satisfy all the demands of the protesters.