French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe says the country’s planned fuel tax is now on hold, after weeks of large protests were mounted by people wearing yellow safety vests. In a live TV address, Philippe said, “No tax deserves to endanger the unity of the nation.”
The retreat comes after anti-fuel-tax demonstrations devolved into a riot in Paris, with people looting stores, burning cars and spray-painting their messages on the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The fuel tax was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, as part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s environmental policy. But it is now suspended, after nearly a month of protests that resulted in four deaths.
Tallying the toll on France in his speech to the nation Tuesday, Philippe said, “Several hundred citizens, in particular members of the police forces, were injured. Threats and insults are expressed without restraint. It does not resemble what we want to be.”
Many of the large protests took place on France’s streets — at big intersections, toll plazas and other high-profile spots — as French drivers vented their fury at the government.
“One would have to be deaf and blind not to see or hear that anger,” Philippe said. “I hear it …. It is the anger of France who works hard and struggles to make ends meet.”
The protests quickly became a movement, with its members using the safety vests that are meant to provide high visibility for people along the roadside to draw attention to their cause.
As Jake Cigainero reported for NPR’s Newscast unit:
“Originally, the yellow vest protesters were people from rural areas who have to drive long distances as part of their daily life. They said they couldn’t afford the hike in fuel prices. Protests appeared in pockets around France to denounce Macron’s green tax and then quickly grew into a larger movement that includes members of the working and middle classes who are expressing their frustration about slipping standards of living. They say their incomes are too high to qualify for social welfare benefits but too low to make ends meet. The movement has no official leadership and was organized initially through social media groups.”
The protests’ initial target was the fuel tax — but they quickly homed in on Macron as the man behind the hike.
“Macron faced down the unions when he passed his labor market overhaul last year,” NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris. “So he wasn’t worried about the grassroots, leaderless yellow vest movement when it first appeared. But three weeks on, the movement is turning out to be the biggest challenge of Macron’s presidency.”
The movement is channeling the anger of working-class people across France who are struggling, Eleanor says, adding, “They perceive Macron as arrogant and deaf to their suffering.”