France’s yellow vests: Who they are, what they want, and why
PARIS (AP) — Yellow vest protesters remain a force in French politics despite ups and downs in the five months after their movement started. As President Emmanuel Macron announces long-awaited responses to their grievances Thursday, here’s a look at their movement:
WHO THEY ARE
The movement started among provincial workers camped out at traffic circles to protest a hike in fuel taxes, sporting the high-visibility vests all French drivers must keep in their cars for emergencies.
It quickly spread to people across political, regional, social and generational divides angry at economic injustice and the way President Emmanuel Macron is running France. At its height, a quarter of a million people marched around France, and polls suggested more than 80 percent of French people supported the movement.
Its numbers have dwindled as Macron has addressed some concerns — and as violent troublemakers have hijacked peaceful protests and trashed treasured monuments and police have responded in force. The movement notably attracted extremists from the far right, and now increasingly from the far left, and those exhibiting anti-Semitic views.
WHAT THEY WANT
At first, they wanted an end to the fuel tax hike. The wish list swiftly mushroomed.
Most of the demands focus on social justice: lower taxes on workers and pensioners, higher taxes on the rich, more public spending to help the working class.
Many want to make it easier for the public to mount national referendums. Some want more action to save the planet. Some want mass nationalization of French corporations, or even full-on revolution. And every week, crowds demand that Macron step down.
WHAT THE PRESIDENT SAYS
Macron caved quickly to their first demand, scrapping the fuel tax rise. He offered 10 billion euros in tax cuts or other gestures for pensioners and workers.
He doesn’t want, however, to re-introduce a wealth tax. He’s cool to the idea of national referendums, and has no plans to quit his job.
His government launched a national debate aimed at addressing the protesters’ concerns, traveling the country for town hall meetings and collecting complaints online. He’s expected to respond to concerns over sinking purchasing power with tax cuts for lower-income households and measures to boost pensions and help single parents. He may also make it easier for ordinary people to initiate local referendums.
WHY IT’S ENDURING
The hard-core protesters say Macron still doesn’t get it. They see the highly educated former investment banker as a president of the rich, and out of touch with the struggles of taxpayers who help sustain the world’s No. 5 economy. The hard-liners are also pushing for early elections — Macron’s term isn’t set to expire until 2022.
His performance this week as fundraiser-in-chief for fire-gutted Notre Dame Cathedral sharpened the anger. Some prominent yellow vest voices are indignant that billionaires quickly offered fortunes to rebuild the landmark cathedral, arguing they should pay more taxes instead.