After more than two weeks of protests over high fuel prices and intensifying inequality across France under centrist President Emmanuel Macron, the French government announced Tuesday that it would suspend planned price hikes for gas and electricity—but the demands of the so-called “Yellow Vest” protesters have become more broad, and more broadly embraced, as the demonstrations have swelled in size and energy.
The price increases for the utilities will be suspended for six months, said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, but leaders of the demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands have donned yellow safety vests were dismissive of the gesture.
“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb,” Benjamin Chaucy, one of the leaders of the protest, told Al Jazeera. “The French don’t want crumbs, they want a baguette.”
The yellow vest protests began November 17, with 300,000 low- to middle-income demonstrators expressing outrage over fuel costs, which have gone up 20 percent in the last year as a result of Macron’s plan to tax carbon use. The price hikes are the result of France’s effort to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent in the next 12 years—but the reaction from protesters suggests intense anger across the country as low-income households have bore the burden of the green initiative, adding to the untenable cost of living for many, while the rich have been given generous tax cuts.
I don’t understand why not give the low income people fuel subsidies and go after the real big polluters??
— iamonfire (@mercforce) December 4, 2018
In addition to their dissatisfaction with the government’s offer regarding the price hikes, the yellow vest protesters have widened the scope of their demonstrations and demands in recent days. The protests have exploded into an impossible-to-ignore statement of outrage over Macron’s leadership, which had a 23 percent approval rating according to a poll released Tuesday by Ifop-Fiducial for Paris Match and Sud Radio; working conditions for paramedics; school reforms; and the perception that Macron, a former investment banker, is a president for the country’s elite.
Workers who live in rural areas far from city centers were the worst-affected by the fuel taxes, as they rely on their cars far more than city dwellers, bolstering protesters’ complaints that Macron represents those wealthy enough to live in Paris and other large cities.
“People want fair fiscal justice. They want social justice,” Thierry Paul Valette, a Paris protest coordinator, told Al Jazeera.
Four people have died in the Yellow Vest protests so far, and an estimated 75,000 people took part in demonstrations that turned violent in Paris this past Saturday. Hundreds of vehicles were set on fire and the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized with the words, “The Yellow Vests will triumph.”
Meanwhile, police used water cannons, stun grenades, and hundreds of canisters of tear gas against the demonstrators, as well as arresting about 400 people.
“We are in a state of insurrection, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jeanne d’Hauteserre, mayor of Paris’s 8th district, told Al Jazeera.
According to French journalist Agnès C. Poirier, both far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing group France Unbowed, have tried to link themselves to the Yellow Vest movement—but their attempts have been rebuffed.
“The protesters seem wholly uninterested in party politics,” Poirier wrote in the New York Times last week. “But they do have something in common with the extreme right and the radical left: a profound dislike of Mr. Macron.”
While only a few hundred thousand people have physically taken part in the movement so far, Le Figaro and Franceinfo reported late last month that 77 percent of French people support the Yellow Vests’ protests.
“The Yellow Vests seem to be the face of a deep malaise in French society,” wrote Poirier.