Movement With an Identity Crisis:
The Gilets Jaunes Explained

More than a month ago, on November 17th, the protests by the Gilet Jaunes movement began in Paris, France. During that month, the movement grew bigger and spread to other countries around the world. The protests turned into riots, and the list of demands kept growing. At the beginning of December the French President Macron finally responded to the protests, but the unrest remained. When will the Yellow Vests be satisfied?

What do they want?

Because the movement keeps developing, and the media continuously reports about the Gilet Jaunes, you may feel a little lost about what it is they want. The yellow vest movement is non-partisan, and the group includes both left- and right-wing participants. That diversity could make their protests even more complicated. However, it did not begin this complicated. When the protests began, the Yellow Vests simply wanted two things:

No excise duty increases on fuels. The price for petrol is not extremely high in France, but the price for diesel is. That is a bigger problem than you might expect, because 62 percent of the French drive a diesel car. Macron wants to increase the diesel price in France because he wants to focus on sustainability. The higher price should cause a lower carbon dioxide emission because it will discourage people from using their cars.

Lower taxes. The tax burden in France is the second highest in Europe. For a French citizen, 45.6 cents of every euro they earn goes to taxes. In Europe the average is 40.1 cents — a substantial difference.

How did it develop?

Even though the protests started as a result of Macron’s planned fuel tax increases, they currently seem to be motivated by overall dissatisfaction with Macron himself. The Yellow Vest movement has grown so fast that it is now unclear what their ultimate goal is. Interviews from Dutch newspapers with some protesters on the streets made clear that some of them were protesting the high unemployment rate in France, others were protesting for a higher minimum wage, and a third group was actually protesting the excise duty increase that had initially started it all. A single group of protesters was motivated by at least three different goals. The Gilets Jaunes seem prepared to go with whatever dissatisfaction they come across.

That there is no clear direction in their movement becomes clear when we look at other Yellow Vest protests around the world. The Vests have spread to other countries in Europe such as the Netherlands and Belgium, but also to Iraq and Egypt. The people of Iraq protest against their poor living conditions, such as limited access to water and electricity and high unemployment. In the Netherlands, the protests are about the high costs for an average livelihood, and dissatisfaction with the current prime minister. The goals and forms of these protests differ around the world, but there seems to be one clear similarity: dissatisfaction with the government.

What has been the response?

The riots in Paris have gotten out of hand. For five weekends in a row, the streets of Paris were ruled by anger, violence and vandalism. Over 10,000 Parisians put on their yellow vests. Macron had no choice but to respond. Even though he vowed on the 28th of November that the riots would not pressure him into changing his course, he did make some concessions. On the 4th of December, he promised to postpone the tax increase on fuel, electricity and gas for six months. However, everyone around the world could feel that this was only done in an attempt to temporarily bring peace back to the streets of Paris.

On the 10th of December, Macron announced more concessions. The minimum wage in France will rise by 100 euros per month. And the taxes for overtime work and pensioners will cease to exist. This is yet another attempt to bring France to peace.

Even though the riots did decrease in size and some people are satisfied with these concessions, the biggest part of the movement is still dissatisfied. They feel ridiculed and unheard. With the protests going on for so long, it seems that it will take a lot for the French government to please their citizens. But one can ask how you can satisfy a movement that has such unclear demands. It may be time for the Gilet Jaunes to decide upon a uniform identity.




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