The “Yellow Vest” protesters have won the first battle with French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration, which announced Tuesday that it will suspend the planned fuel tax increases, which are part of its climate change agenda, for at least six months.
In his announcement of the reversal, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cited the violent protests as the reason the administration has decided to put their global warming fuel tax on hold.
“The French who have donned yellow vests want taxes to drop, and work to pay,” said Philippe, Reuters reports. “That’s also what we want. If I didn’t manage to explain it, if the ruling majority didn’t manage to convince the French, then something must change. No tax is worth jeopardizing the unity of the nation.”
While Philippe admitted that the administration was caving to the increasingly violent protests, he also chided the citizenry for not wanting increased taxes, which he warned would limit government services and result in passing debts “on to our children.”
“If the events of recent days have shown us one thing, it’s that the French want neither an increase in taxes or new taxes,” he said. “If the tax-take falls then spending must fall, because we don’t want to pass our debts on to our children. And those debts are already sizeable.”
Before the announcement, some officials had suggested that a wage increase might accompany the new tax to help soften the blow, but while Philippe said the administration would look into ways to help the poor and middle class who rely on vehicles, he didn’t mention an increase in the minimum wage.
Reuters notes that this is “the first major U-turn by President Emmanuel Macron’s administration after 18 months in office.”
For the last two weeks, protesters have swarmed the streets of France in response to the fuel tax, which has been billed as a way to combat global warming but would impose highly burdensome taxes on fuel that protesters say they simply cannot afford. NPR reports that the French Interior Ministry estimates that some 136,000 protesters took to the streets over the weekend and a total of 280,000 had protested in the preceding weeks.
The protest movement has taken the name “Yellow Vest” because of the yellow vests they wear at the demonstrations. All motorists are required by French law to have a yellow vest in case of emergency situations. The movement began on social media on November 17 and has been picking up momentum, and new significance, since. Reuters notes that what started off as a protest of the new tax has turned into an “anti-Macron uprising, with many criticizing the president for pursuing policies they say favor the rich and do nothing to help the poor.”
Video footage of violence that broke out over the weekend between the “ultraleft” and “ultraright,” who defaced various famous landmarks, set cars ablaze, and attacked police: