A year ago this month, the “yellow vest” protests began in France. More than 300,000 men and women took to the streets of Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse dressed in bright yellow safety vests.
They marched largely in opposition to a proposed fuel tax, arguing that gas prices in France were already too high. A beleaguered President Emmanuel Macron attempted to justify his policy by explaining the tax was necessary to reach goals agreed to in the Paris climate accord.
The protesters didn’t care. They continued to march until both the proposed tax was defeated and they had Macron in political trouble.
Since then, the movement that haunted the French president has largely fizzled into obscurity. But on the one-year anniversary of the protests, we have an opportunity to reflect on the policies that the movement strove to implement, and where the yellow vests failed to make a real difference.
It is important to start with the context surrounding the protests.
In 2018, French drivers could expect to pay more than $6 per gallon at the pump. These high prices were a direct result of energy taxes used to fund infrastructure work and other government projects.
The fuel tax that sparked the protests was just another one of these taxes, but the rationale justifying it was new. Macron explicitly said the tax was a direct result of the Paris climate accord.
As one protestor put it: “Fuel is already overtaxed and the increase was absolutely not going to pay for climate. That was money for the government’s pockets, and only a bit for climate.”
Yet herein lies the irony. As these protesters slammed the government for rising gas costs, they simultaneously called for increased government intrusion in the name of fighting climate change.