Yellow vests movement

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Yellow vests movement
Gilets jaunes protests
Part of Protests against Emmanuel Macron
ManifGiletsJaunesVesoul 17nov2018 (cropped).jpg
A gilets jaunes demonstration in Vesoul, eastern France
Date 17 November 2018 – ongoing
Caused by
  • Decrease of fuel and motor taxes[12]
  • Improved standard of living
  • Raise in minimum wage[13]
  • Resignation of President Emmanuel Macron and his government
  • End to unpopular austerity measures
  • Government transparency and accountability to the working and middle classes
Methods Protests, civil disobedience, barricades, blocking traffic, disabling radars, rioting,[14][15] vandalism,[16] arson[17][18] and looting.[19]
Status Ongoing, as of December 13, 2018.[20]
  • Cancellation of the gas tax and a six-month moratorium on diesel and gasoline price changes by the French government[20]
  • The promise to raise the minimum wage by €100 per month by 2019[21]
  • An announcement that the price of the Électricité de France blue tariffs would not increase before March 2019.[22]
  • The elimination of tax on overtime and end-of-the-year bonuses[23]
287,710 protesters at the peak (per French interior ministry)[24]
Death(s) 4 civilians (in France)[25]
Injuries 1000+ civilians
~200+ injured police officers
Arrested 1600 people (as of 4 December 2018)[26]
More than 2300 (8 December 2018 alone)[27]

The yellow vests movement (French: Mouvement des gilets jaunes, pronounced [ʒilɛ ʒon]), also referred to as the yellow jacket movement, is a protest movement that started online in May 2018 and led to demonstrations that began in France on 17 November 2018 and rapidly spread to Wallonia, Belgium. Motivated by rising fuel prices, the high cost of living and claims that a disproportionate burden of the government's tax reforms were falling on the working and middle classes,[28][29][30] especially in rural and peri-urban areas,[7][31] protesters have called for reductions in fuel taxes, the reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, the raising of the minimum wage, and the resignation of Emmanuel Macron as President of France.

The movement's leaders chose the yellow vest a symbol because, since 2008, a law has required all French motorists to have high-visibility vests in their vehicles when driving. As a result, reflective vests were widely available, inexpensive, and symbolic.[12] By early-December 2018, the symbol had become increasingly common from Europe to Iraq, as different groups made use of their high-visibility vests to draw attention to their agendas.

Five Le Monde journalists studied the yellow vests' forty-two directives[32] and concluded that two-thirds were "very close" to the position of the "radical left" (Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoît Hamon, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud), that nearly half were "compatible with" the position of the "far right" (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Marine Le Pen), and that all were "very far removed" from "liberal" policies (Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon).[33] Etienne Girard, writing for Marianne, says the one figure that gathers wide support in the movement has been dead for thirty-two years: the former humourist and presidential candidate Coluche.[34]



Since the 1950s, the French government has subsidized the production of diesel engines. In particular, since 1980 Peugeot has been at the forefront of diesel technology. A reduction in VAT taxes for corporate fleets also increased the prevalence of diesel cars in France.[35]

Fuel prices

The price of petrol (SP95-E10) decreased during 2018, from €1.4682 per litre in January to €1.4305 per litre in the last week of November.[36]

Prices of petrol and diesel fuel increased by 15 percent and 23 percent respectively between October 2017 and October 2018.[37] The world market purchase price of petrol for distributors increased by 28 percent over the previous year; for diesel, by 35 percent. Costs of distribution increased by 40 percent. VAT included, diesel taxes increased by 14 percent over one year and petrol taxes by 7.5 percent.[37] The tax increase had been 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol in 2018, with a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol planned for 1 January 2019.[38][39]

The taxes collected on the sale of fuel are:

  • The domestic consumption tax on energy products (TICPE, la Taxe intérieure de consommation sur les produits énergétiques), which is not calculated based on the price of oil, but rather at a fixed rate by volume. Part of this tax, paid at the pump, goes to regional governments, while another portion goes to the national government. Since 2014, this tax has included a carbon component—increased each year—in an effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The TICPE for diesel fuel was raised sharply in 2017 and 2018 to bring it to the same level as the tax on petrol.
  • Value added tax (VAT), calculated on the sum of the price excluding tax and the TICPE. Its rate has been stable at 20 percent since 2014, after having been at 19.6 percent between 2000 and 2014.

The protest movement against fuel prices mainly concerns individuals, as a number of professions and activities benefit from partial or total exemptions from TICPE.[40][41]

The protesters criticize Édouard Philippe's second government for making individuals liable for the bulk of the cost of the carbon tax. As the carbon tax has progressively been ramping up to meet ecological objectives, many who have chosen fossil fuel-based heating for their homes, outside of city centers—where a car is required—are displeased. President Macron attempted to dispel these concerns in early November by offering special subsidies and incentives.[42]

Diesel prices in France increased by 16 percent in 2018, with taxes on both petrol and diesel increasing at the same time and a further tax increase planned for 2019, making diesel as expensive as petrol.[43] President Macron is bearing the brunt of the protesters' anger for his extension of policies implemented under François Hollande's government.[43]

A high-visibility vest, the key symbol of the protests

Other non-union protests

One of the first known demonstrations in France against the taxation of petrol prices dates back to 1933 in Lille. The movement against tax increases also evokes the poujadism of the 1950s, which mobilized the middle classes and was articulated around a tax revolt.

"Slow-down movements" were also organized in the 1970s. In July 1992, such a movement was set up to protest against the introduction of the points-based permit.[44]

Economic reforms

The protesters claim that the fuel tax is intended to finance tax cuts for big business, with some critics such as Dania Koleilat Khatib claiming that spending should be cut instead.[45][46] Macron said the goal of the administration's economic reform program is to increase France's competitiveness in the global economy, and says that the fuel tax is intended to discourage fossil-fuel use.[42] Many of the yellow jackets are primarily motivated by economic difficulties due to low salaries and high energy prices.[47] The majority of the yellow jacket movement wants to fight climate change, but are opposed to forcing the working class and the poor pay for a problem caused by multinational corporations.[48][49]

Origin and organisation

A woman from the Seine-et-Marne department started a petition on the website in May 2018 that reached 300,000 signatures by mid-October. Parallel to this petition, two men from the same department launched a Facebook event for 17 November to "block all roads" and thus protest against an increase in fuel prices they considered excessive, stating that this increase was the result of the tax increase. One of the viral videos around this group launched the idea of using yellow jackets.[50]

According to French scholar Béatrice Giblin, comparisons between the gilets jaunes and the Bonnets Rouges—who opposed a new eco-tax in 2013—were inapt because the latter "had been taken in hand by real leaders, such as the mayor of Carhaix, or the great bosses of Brittany" whereas that is not the case for the yellow jackets.[51] Gilets jaunes is organised in a leaderless, horizontal fashion. Informal leaders can emerge, only to be immediately rejected and threatened with violence by other yellow jackets. According to John Lichfield, some in the movement take their hatred of politicians so far they extend it even to any "would-be politicians who emerge from their own ranks."[52][53] The yellow jacket movement is not associated with a specific political party or trade union and has spread largely by social media.[54]

According to Stéphane Sirot, a specialist in the history of French trade unionism, the unions, traditionally known as corps intermediaires (intermediary bodies) in France, were hesitant to join forces with the yellow jackets because the movement included people trade unions traditionally do not represent (business owners and the self-employed) as well as people who simply did not want to negotiate. The presence of far-right elements in the movement was also off-putting to the CGT.[55] This has made it difficult for the government to negotiate.[citation needed]

A significant number of misleading images and information have been circulated on social media concerning the protests. According to Pascal Froissart, the leaderless, horizontal, aspect of the movement contributes to the dissemination of disinformation, as nobody is in charge of public relations or of gate-keeping on social media.[56]


Adam Gopnik writes that gilets jaunes can be viewed as part of a series of French street protests stretching back to at least the strikes of 1995. Citing historian Herrick Chapman, he suggests General de Gaulle's centralisation of power when creating the French Fifth Republic was so excessive that it made street protests the only "dynamic alternative to government policy."[57] The 1 December riots in Paris were widely acknowledged to have been the most violent since May 1968.[58] Paris-based journalist John Lichfield said that the 1968 events had a joyous side to them, largely absent from the yellow vest movement, but that both movements were similar in that they lacked recognized leaders, much as the banlieues riots of 2005 had.[52] Some have made comparisons to the French Revolution,[59] others to Orbanism.[57]


17 November: 'Act I'

A protest on 17 November cutting the road near Belfort

The protests began on 17 November 2018, and attracted over 300,000 people across France with protesters constructing barricades and blocking roads.[60][38] John Lichfield, a journalist who witnessed the riots, described them as insurrectional.[61]

In addition to roads, protesters also blocked as many as ten fuel depots.[62] On this first day of protests, a 63-year old pensioner was run over by a motorist in Le Pont-de-Beauvoisin while she was demonstrating at the roundabout that allows access to a commercial zone.[50][63] A motorcyclist died after being struck the same day by a van trying to get around a barricade. [64] By 21 November, 585 civilians had been injured, sixteen severely, and 115 police officers, three seriously.[65]

Protests also occurred in the French overseas region of Réunion, where the situation deteriorated into looting and riots. Schools on the island were closed for three days after protesters blocked access to roads. On 21 November, President Macron ordered the deployment of troops to the island to calm the violence.[66]

Gilets jaunes protesting against motorists on French Motorway A51, near Grenoble, Isère

24 November: 'Act II'

With the protests in Paris having raised tensions the previous week, the Interior Ministry agreed to allow a gathering on 24 November at the Champ de Mars.[66] The protests attracted 106,000 people all across France,[67] only 8,000 of whom were in Paris, where the protests turned violent. Protesters lit fires in the streets, tore down signs, built barricades and pulled up cobblestones. Police resorted to tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters.[38] On 26 November, an official estimated that the riots in Paris during the two previous days had cost up to €1.5m in damage. Two hundred additional workers were assigned to assist with the cleanup and repair work.[68] On 29 November, François Ruffin, the founder of hard-left Fakir (fr), organised a mobilizing meeting, at which Frédéric Lordon spoke, saying "If the Nuitdeboutistes who got all wound up into deforestation and anti-specist commissions can't get moving when this happens, then they are the last of the last".[69]

1 December: 'Act III'

Tags in Paris after the riots of 1 December

A protest called "Act 3 – Macron Quits" was organised for 1 December.[70]

Yellow jackets briefly occupied the runway at Nantes Atlantique Airport and prevented access to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport. Vinci Autoroutes reported tollbooths were blocked on 20 major arteries all across France. [71][72][73]

In Marseille, where demonstrations have been frequent since the 5 November collapse of a building and the evacuation of the surrounding neighborhood,[74] an 80-year-old Algerian woman trying to close her shutters was hit by shards from a police tear gas canister, later dying while in surgery.[25][75] A second motorist was killed on the third weekend after crashing his van into stopped lorries at a barricade on the Arles bypass.[64]

More than 100 cars were burned in Paris during the protest on 1 December, and the Arc de Triomphe was vandalised.[61] On the following Monday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo estimated the property damages at €3–4 million.[25]

8 December: 'Act IV'

Protests turned violent for the second week in a row in Le Puy-en-Velay. Civil unrest marred the Festival of Lights in both Lyon and Saint-Étienne.[76] The A6 motorway was again blocked north of Lyon in Villefranche-sur-Saône.[77]

Paris experienced protests for the fourth consecutive week. Many shops were boarded up in anticipation of violence, with The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera also closed.[78] Police assembled steel fences around the Élysée Palace and deployed armoured vehicles on the streets in an attempt to limit the violence.[79][78]

10 December: Macron's televised address

In his 10 December speech to the French people in response to the movement, Macron pledged a €100 per month increase in the minimum wage in 2019, the exclusion of charges and taxes on overtime hours in 2019, and on any 2018 end-of-year bonuses paid to employees. Macron likewise announced that pensioners on low incomes would be excluded from an increase in the CSG in 2019. He stood by his replacement of the solidarity tax on wealth with increases in property taxes.[21][80] The broadcast was watched by more than 23 million people, making it the most-viewed political speech in French history.[81] After investigation, it became apparent that the minimum wage itself would not be raised by €100 a month but that those eligible would see an increase in the activity bonus paid by the CAF. [82]

On 11 December, after having declared a state of economic and social emergency the day before, Macron invited representatives of the French banks to the Elysée to announce that the banks had agreed to freeze their prices in 2019 and to permanently limit incident-related fees to €25 a month for people in extreme financial difficulty, as determined by the Bank of France.[83]


Students protesting the government's educational reforms

Angered by Macron's education reforms and plans to change the baccalauréat (a secondary-school leaving exam), students protested in cities across France.[84] Students expressed concern that these reforms will lead to further inequalities of access to higher education between students in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas.[85][86][87]

On 6 December, over 140 students were arrested outside a school in Mantes-la-Jolie. A video of the mass arrest—showing students kneeling with their hands behind their heads—inspired indignation.[88] Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French Education Minister, said that although he was "shocked" by the scene, it needed to be viewed "in context".[89][90] On the same day, France Bleu reported that Saint-Étienne was "under siege".[91] It was in this context that the mayor of Saint-Étienne suggested, first by tweet then by press release, that the Festival of Lights in neighbouring Lyon be canceled to free up police in the region.[92]

University students have reportedly joined the movement, denouncing the planned increase of tuition fees for foreign students from non-EU countries.[93]

Protests outside France


According to Kim Willsher of The Guardian, the gilets jaunes protest has inspired imitation in Italy with a pro-government movement, citing an Italian organizer saying, "We are inspired by the French gilet jaunes, [...] But we are motivated by other issues. We, unlike the French, support our government. What we protest against is Europe. We want Europe to no longer interfere with Italian politics."[68]

Riot police in Brussels were pelted with billiard balls, cobblestones and rocks on 30 November, and responded with water cannons; 60 arrests were made for disturbing the public order.[94] Several oil depots had been blocked in Wallonia as of 16 November 2018, though protesters' attempts to block the Russian Lukoil depot in Brussels were quickly thwarted by police.[1] The movement is now working to form a party for the Belgian federal elections in 2019 under the name Mouvement citoyen belge.[95][1] On 8 December, when protestors calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel tried to breach a riot barricade, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. The protesters involved were throwing stones, flares and other objects at police, resulting in around 100 arrests.[79]

On 1 December, a small number of "yellow vest" demonstrators protested in Dutch cities.[2] Further demonstrations occurred on 8 December, where peaceful protesters marched through Rotterdam.[79]

In Serbia, civil rights organization "Združena akcija Krov nad glavom" started using yellow vests in its protests to show solidarity and common cause with French Yellow vest movement.[96] Parallel to that, on 4 December, Boško Obradović, the leader of the far-right Dveri party, called for demonstrations about high fuel prices in Serbia on 8 December.[97]

In Germany, the symbol was used by anti-mass-immigration groups, including Pegida, who demonstrated at the Brandenburg Gate.[98]

Middle East

On 5 December, Yellow Jacket-inspired protesters demonstrated in Basra, Iraq, for more job opportunities and better services. They were reportedly fired upon with live ammunition.[5]

In Egypt, sales restrictions on yellow reflective vests were introduced in an apparent attempt to prevent opposition groups from staging copycat protests inspired by those in France.[99][100]

In Tunisia, a derivative group, the Gilets Rouges (Red Vests), emerged on Facebook, calling for protests against the economic situation in the country.[101]


In late November 2018, polls showed that the movement has widespread support in France (ranging from 73 percent[102] to 84 percent).[54] An opinion poll conducted after 1 December events found that 72 percent of French people supported the "gilets jaunes" and that 85 percent were opposed to the violence in Paris.[103]

Truckers were targeted by protesters, and the industry made their displeasure with the situation known to the government in an open letter.[41] Two labor unions, CGT and FO who had initially called on truckers to start striking Sunday,[104] retracted their call on 7 December 2018, after having consulted the government and their membership.[105]

The Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, blamed Marine Le Pen, Macron's opponent in the 2017 presidential election, and her Rassemblement National party for the violence on 24 November 2018 after she had reportedly urged people to go to the Champs Élysées.[67] Le Pen responded that letting people assemble on the Champs Élysées was the government's responsibility and accused the Minister of the Interior of trying to increase the tension to discredit the movement.[67]

Although President Macron had been insisting that the fuel tax increases would go through as planned, on 4 December 2018 the government announced that the tax hikes would be put on hold, with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe saying that "no tax deserves to endanger the unity of the nation".[106][13] On Sunday, 9 December, the Elysée called trade unions and employers' organizations to invite them to meet on Monday 10 December so Macron could "present the measures" he intends to announce.[107]

In early-December 2018, the prime minister announced that the price of the Électricité de France blue tariffs would not increase before March 2019.[22]

On 10 December, Macron condemned the violence but acknowledged the protesters' anger as "deep, and in many ways legitimate".[108] He subsequently promised a minimum wage increase of €100 per month from 2019, cancelled a planned tax increase for low-income pensioners, and made overtime payments as well as end-of-year bonuses tax free.[108][109] However, Macron refused to reinstate a wealth tax he scrapped upon entering into office.[110][111]

See also


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