After weeks of violent protests which have left three dead and hundreds injured or arrested, France’s government has agreed to halt the proposed tax raising the French fuel price.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is due to announce the suspension of the French fuel price increase today, although it is as yet unclear whether the tax increase will be temporarily suspended or cancelled altogether.
The gilets jaunes protests initially focused on the French fuel price rise, introduced by President Emmanuel Macron as part of his environmental programme, but grew to encompass greater concerns of class inequality and dissatisfaction with a president seen by many as elitist and out of touch. Over the past three weeks the protests have dominated French news, with protesters hurling projectiles at police, vandalising the Arc de Triomphe and setting fires. Police have responded with tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray, leading to accusations of unjustified police violence; while it has been alleged that the worst offences perpetrated by the gilets jaunes have come from members of the far right and excitable hooligans.
Philippe was due to meet with representatives of the gilets jaunes yesterday to discuss issues arising from the rising French fuel price, which critics say disproportionately affects drivers on low incomes and in rural areas; but the meeting was called off after the protest movement’s representatives were threatened by extremists within the movement. Macron had to cancel a planned visit to Serbia in order to concentrate on resolving the protests, while an address to the French National Assembly by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, scheduled for today, was also cancelled.
Macron has accused his political opponents, particularly far right leader Marine Le Pen and volatile socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon, of infiltrating the gilets jaunes in an attempt to discredit him; and has said that the French fuel price increase is necessary to reduce emissions and combat climate change. He has pledged a raft of measures to alleviate the effect of the tax rise on lower income citizens, including grants to help drivers buy lower emission cars and a potential minimum wage hike in 2019; but critics say these are not enough to help working class families.