Paris is seeing perhaps the most intense protests in decades as “yellow vest” protesters take to the street, prompting violent confrontations with the police. Cars have been burned, property has been vandalized, and protesters have shot nonlethal weapons. Conversely, clips of non-violent protesters have been circulating social media, resulting in allegations of abuse.
Hundreds of people have been hurt and four killed in the confrontations. Hundreds more have been detained, including school-aged kids. This weekend marked the fourth straight weekend of protests, and despite government efforts to appease protesters, tensions are not abating.
The protests have drawn support from France’s far-right groups. Marine Le Pen has claimed that the ongoing crisis will only be resolved through “political means,” seeming to echo calls for Macron to resign. Pen claimed that the ongoing protests are because the French people have been “deprived of sympathy for the people, constrained by arrogance and indifference of the elites.”
In 2017, Macron swept into power promising reform, but protesters allege that many of his policies have reeked of the same old stuff. Even before Macron got to implement many major policy reforms, he came under intense fire in the early weeks of his administration after it was revealed that he was spending $30,000 on “emergency makeup services.” The news broke as many French struggled to make ends meet.
Many French citizens feel that in the months since, Macron has remained as aloof and that he’s an elitist. The most recent crisis broke out after the French government moved to raise taxes on diesel in an effort to combat climate change. The French government has since decided to delay the implementation of new taxes for at least six months. However, it appears to be too little, too late, and too much of a half measure to appease protesters.
Macron also came under fire early in his administration for eliminating a wealth tax that taxed up to 1.8 percent of total wealth. While Macron was eliminating the tax, he also cut housing subsidies, creating spectacularly bad optics, with critics accusing him of favoring the rich over the poor.
President Donald Trump has seized the moment as well. Trump claims that the protests are a rebuke against the Paris Accord. Trump tweeted:
The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting “We Want Trump!” Love France.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
So far, the “We Want Trump!” chants have not been collaborated. It’s quite possible that protesters have been expressing support for the president given that France’s right-wing elements are among the biggest participants in the rallies. The Associated Press, however, claims that none of their journalists have heard calls for Trump. Trump did tweet a video showing people chanting “we want Trump,” but they appeared to be English speakers rather than French.
Further, while the fuel hike may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, the situation in France is far more complicated. Checking around social media and reading analyses of the ongoing protests, it appears that French citizens are upset with the inequality levels in France and how difficult it is for the average French citizen to make ends meet.
Some analysts and media outlets have labeled the protests as a revolt against the one percent. In the years since the Great Recession, average French citizens have continued to struggle while the wealthy remain safely insulated. The unemployment rate in France remains at 9.3 percent, near the worst the United States saw during the Great Recession. Worse yet, the youth unemployment rate weighs in at 21.5 percent, suggesting young people are struggling to start their careers.
All of these factors combined appear to be creating a perfect storm, and one that could lead to extensive losses for Macron in the upcoming EU Parliament elections.