“Les Gilets Jaunes” has been a phrase on our lips throughout the Christmas break. This citizen’s protest movement – conceived due to Emmanuel Macron’s planned rise in fuel taxes – grew immensely following its popularity with an online petition. At it’s début on the 17th of November the French Interior Ministry reported 285,000 demonstrators. But their dedication did not stop there, with a further 100,000 on the streets on the 1st of December. Given the persistence of the movement, many have rightly begun to consider what this means for the Republic. Are we watching the buds of a new 1789 begin to blossom? Perhaps not.
Whilst protestors are keen to label Macron “Robin des Bourges” (the antonym of the French Robin Hood: ‘Robin de Bois’) and claim that his interests are solely bourgeoisie-centric, it would seem that the 20 percent of French people who don the yellow vests may have misinterpreted exactly what Macron is trying to achieve. On the face of it, by lifting taxes on the rich and placing them on petrol and diesel – a necessity for commuting workers all over France – Macron could very well be playing the role of a twisted Robin. But let’s delve a bit deeper into this policy. At the heart of Macron’s fresh and energetic political campaign ‘En Marche!’ was the promise of a new, economically centric and socially progressive regime to rival the stuffy politicians of days gone by. And a fundamental aspect of this, was a reform to the previously ‘untouchable’ wealth tax. By abolishing the wealth tax and implementing a new tax on the wealthy’s property holdings, Macron sought to invigorate economic growth by pushing cash away from property, towards more productive forms of investment. Not only could this new investment ameliorate the French economy, Macron also hoped it would attract businesses and key individuals considering to relocate from the UK after Brexit. So how does the fuel tax fall into this? Primarily, in order to fulfil his promised economic U-turn, Macron needed a short-term fix to replace the money he would potentially need until the productive investments began. Yet in addition, Macron also saw the fuel tax as a way to cut emissions and respond to the demands of climate change. After we study these facts, is Macron still the ‘perpetrator of the poor’? Or is he merely wishing to implement a strengthening economic turnaround which 66.1 percent of French voters gave him a mandate to do? Whilst these riots have re-ignited the ‘rich versus poor’ tensions apparent throughout the history of the Republic, this outrage might be unfounded. Macron’s proposal is a far-cry from the class-inequalities of Louis XVI’s era to which the President has been likened. With such differing circumstances, we mustn’t expect the same volatile outcomes.
But what about the violence? Surely these hark back to the Revolution? Is this déjà-vu? Not really. In fact, it seems it is quite the opposite. Having seen the violence of the riots on the news and social media platforms such as Twitter (where most of the protests were organised), it would not be a far-cry to assume that France is on the brink of another Revolution. But, on a closer look, les Gilets Jaunes are far from a unified front prepared to launch a rebellion. What was once a group of citizens joining forces through an online petition, is now a fractured movement void of a common goal. The movement now includes supporters of both Le Pen and Mélenchon, as well as spreading its roots to Brexiteers across the Channel. Whilst their international success is impressive, it seems unlikely that this smorgasbord of supporters has united the original concern: fuel-taxes. Can this fragmented campaign, then, really be likened to 1789? The Revolution had one clear goal – a liberal republic based on the ideas of the enlightenment. Les Gilets jaunes, however, is a bubbling hot-pot of countless political views which is void of a clear interest.
Les Gilets Jaunes were, at their debut, a citizen’s protest group outraged at Macron’s economic measures. But now, their support base is fractured, and as we delve deeper into the heart of Macron’s policy, perhaps their outrage is too. Nonetheless, their success seems to be dwindling regardless. A poll for Harris Interactive in December reported that 85% of French people are calling for an end to this violence. So, it doesn’t even look like there’s appetite for a revolution anyway.