“Gilets Jaunes” Protests In France: Assessing The Demands & The Damage

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What Are The Protests About & When Did They Start?

The “Gilets Jaunes” movement in France has gained international attention over recent weeks due to the escalation in violence. How did it begin?

The Yellow Vest protests essentially began as a backlash against the increased tax on diesel duties in France. Diesel is widely used in the country and has traditionally been less heavily taxed than other fuels. The protestors gathered in the streets wearing the yellow high visibility jackets which French law requires every motorist to have, hence the name.

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The price of diesel has increased sharply over last the last twelve months, rising 23% and so the announcement of Macron’s decision to impose a 6.5 cent tax increase on diesel (as well as a 2.9 cents petrol increase) was met with widespread rage.

Macron explained the need for the fuel rise as being mainly linked to the rise in oil prices which, up until two months ago, had been rising steadily. The tax increase would also go towards the funds needed for renewable energy research and investments, according to the PM.

Following the escalation in the initial protests which involved police being attacked and cars and properties being set alight, Macron said that he would postpone the fuel hikes. The move was widely criticized as tantamount to giving in to demands from terrorists, and since then the objectives of the protests have now evolved and developed into a call for improvement on a range of issues such as higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions, and easier university entry standards.

The protests, which are approaching a month in duration have caused widespread damage and seen thousands arrested

Timeline of the protests

·         17 November: 282,000 protesters – one dead, 409 wounded – 73 in custody

·         24 November: 166,000 protesters – 84 wounded – 307 in custody

·         1 December: 136,000 protesters – 263 wounded – 630 in custody

·         8 December : 136,000 protesters – 118 wounded – 1,220 in custody

The main concern now is over the negative impact on the French economy with the nation’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire saying:

“It’s a catastrophe for business, it’s a catastrophe for our economy.”

Indeed, according to sources familiar with events on the ground, the damage has become far worse each weekend as the riots are being more dispersed and the level of looting has increased.

It is not just the damage caused to shops and businesses that is creating difficulty, it is that so many businesses are being forced to close and barricade their premises in order to protect both their staff and their properties and inventories.

Economic Damage Mounting Up

Speaking with Reuters on Friday, the French retail administration said that retailers had lost over 1 billion Euros in the four weeks since the protests began and this figure is yet to account for the latest rioting over the weekend.

The weeks preceding Christmas are typically the busiest retail period of the year, and the ongoing riots are causing retailers to lose out on this opportunity. Other industries are being hit hard too with the restaurant sector in France seeing a contraction of between 20% and 50% in typical business activity for this time of year.

The head of the French small and medium-sized business confederation, Francois Asselin, told reporters that in total, the protests could end up costing his members over 10 billion Euros.

Loss of Tourism

Tourism is also another major concern. Paris is the third most visited city in the world, and while the latest data shows that the city was visited by a record number of tourists in 2017, there are concerns now that such widespread violence could cause a drop in this figure over the coming months.

French 4Q GDP Forecasts Lowered

Indeed, the negative impact of the damage is clear in the latest forecast for year-end activity. This week, France’s central bank halved its fourth-quarter growth forecast to just 0.2% from 0.4%. The figure is well below the 0.8% growth needed to meet the government’s full-year target of 1.7 percent

Macron To Adress The Nation

With the issue growing in severity and the protests showing no signs of stopping, French President Macron is now due to address the nation at 1900 GMT today when he is expected to announce “immediate and concrete” measures to deal with the protests as calls for his resignation continue to build among the “Gilets Jaunes” protestors.

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