French Motorists Spark 'Yellow Vest' Protests and Riots Over Fuel Taxes and Regulations (UPDATE: New Green Taxes to Be Suspended)

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

Despite everything you’ve heard about road rage, motorists tend to be pretty meek — at least when it comes to government regulations, and particularly in Europe. They passively accept, and pay for, mandated safety and emissions regulations as well as for taxes on the fuel for their vehicles. Perhaps, though, they aren’t as passive as we think. For the past three weeks, France has erupted in massive protests and riots that are being called the Gilet Jaunes protests, demonstrations that are spreading to Belgium and the Netherlands, and those protests were spearheaded by motorists.

Gilet Jaunes is French for “yellow vests,” which many of the protesters are wearing as a statement against intrusive, expensive, and sometimes petty government regulations and taxes. (For the past decade, French motorists have been required by law to carry bright yellow/green safety vests in their vehicles and wear them in the case of a breakdown.)

Their immediate grievance was an increase in fuel prices, partly as a result of carbon taxes (both for transportation and heating purposes), though diesel fuel is seeing the largest increase. The protests have expanded to include other government regulations, particularly those that most heavily impact the middle class. While the new taxes were instituted by the previous government, French President Emmanuel Macron has been the primary target of the protesters’ rage. Protesters sang La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Some of the demonstrators literally called for Macron’s head, “La guillotine pour Macron,” they shouted.

In an opportunistic fashion, French nationalists on the right and Antifa members on the left have joined in the rioting, which has resulted in three fatalities, over 260 people injured (some of them innocent passersby), and over 400 arrested. More than 36,000 people protested in Paris on Saturday, causing Macron to cut short his stay at the G20 summit of international leaders in Argentina and return to France on Sunday. French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Sunday that he would not rule out the president declaring a state of emergency. The rioting is the worst France has seen in decades.

The demonstrations have no formal leadership, but a group of 10 representatives of the protesters published a call for negotiations in a French weekly.

That concerns of motorists are at the center of the protest can be seen by their call for “immediate and unconditional freeze in the tax increase on fuel” and the cancellation of new, more rigorous vehicle inspection rules, which raises costs for drivers, particularly operators of privately owned vehicles whose expenses can’t be written off like vehicles owned by businesses. The protesters see the French government as favoring the well to do and elites. Members of the upper middle class in Europe often receive the use of company cars and aren’t as personally affected by the taxes and fees.

UPDATE: Le Monde is reporting that Macron’s government will announce a moratorium on the new taxes for three months. Apparently, this is not placating the Gilet Jaunes. Protest leader Christophe Chalençon said a temporary suspension of the taxes will not end the demonstrations, stating, “This is not going to send us back to our homes.”

Image source: Wikimedia ( CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ronnie Schreiber
Ronnie Schreiber

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, the original 3D car site.

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  • Lon888 Lon888 on Dec 04, 2018

    I have a close French friend and this how he explained this to me. The French oil company Total puts out 75% of the polluting gases in France yet they do not have to pay to clean up their act. instead, its the French citizen that has to foot the bill, by way of the new fuel tax, to pay for Total's polluting. Its easy to see why they're mad as hell - I would be too. Their government is crapping on the middle and poor classes just like here.

    • See 1 previous
    • SPPPP SPPPP on Dec 05, 2018

      @ToddAtlasF1 "...if Total was picking up the bill for the government then they’d still have to pass on the expense to consumers. Right?" Well, they could try something radical, like instituting pollution controls at major pollution locations and paying for it out of their massive profits. I know, that's crazy talk. But still, their EBITDA for 2017 was about 32 billion euros, so maybe...?

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Dec 04, 2018

    Yeah, but how you can expect to have free universal health care and free college education without high taxes? Also you have to feed and take care of all those so called "migrants" (freeloaders in other words) who do not contribute to society.

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂