France suspends fuel tax, utility hikes amid protests
By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
Tuesday, December 4
PARIS (AP) — The French government’s decision to suspend fuel tax and utility hikes Tuesday did little to appease protesters, who called it a “first step” and vowed to fight on after large-scale rioting in Paris last weekend.
In a major U-turn for the government, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in a live televised address that the planned increases, which were set to be introduced in January, were now being postponed until the summer.
The backpedaling appeared to be designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.
“No tax is worth putting the nation’s unity in danger,” said Philippe, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn’t change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.
Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests kept blocking several fuel depots Tuesday and many insisted their fight wasn’t over.
“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb,” Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend in Paris, with dozens of cars torched. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
The Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was visited by world leaders last month to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graffiti and vandalized inside.
“This violence must end,” Philippe said.
Philippe also announced that electricity and natural gas prices will be frozen until May 2019 in a move aimed at improving spending power.
Philippe’s announcement is unlikely to put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, though, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris.
A soccer game between Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier which was scheduled for Saturday in Paris was postponed after police said they couldn’t guarantee security amid expected protests in the capital.
“If another day of protests takes place on Saturday, it should be authorized and should take place in calm,” Philippe said. “The interior minister will use all means to ensure order is respected.”
Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe’s decision but said it came too late.
“This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged,” she said. “We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from retirees. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was “obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precariousness.”
After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met with Macron and other ministers in order to find a quick solution to the crisis.
Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron has canceled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike but have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron’s government doesn’t care about the problems of ordinary people.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.
Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.
Why France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters are so angry
December 3, 2018
Author: Claude Poissenot, Enseignant-chercheur à l’IUT Nancy-Charlemagne et au Centre de REcherches sur les Médiations (CREM), Université de Lorraine
Disclosure statement: Claude Poissenot does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Université de Lorraine provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation FR.
France’s “gilets jaunes” protests of December 1 were marked not only by their anger and violence, but also by the variety of those taking part. The violence of the protests – named after the yellow vests worn by those on the streets – is partly the work of extremist, anarchist groups pursuing illusory political goals. Others involved are casseurs or “wreckers”, who’ve inserted themselves in the movement to fight the police and loot stores for the appeal of doing damage and the lure of personal profit.
But it seems that some of the gilets jaunes themselves wanted to fight. Above all, they are expressing their anger out loud.
The protesters consider themselves as “the people.” Their motives – which include falling purchasing power and rising taxes – are often coupled with frustrations about the gap between the French government and its citizens. This theme has come out in the choice of sites targeted in the violence – the Elysée presidential palace, administrative buildings, banks and luxury shops.
Many of those protesting feel neglected, oppressed and dominated. For the most part they’re employed, but their incomes often don’t meet their needs despite the exhaustion they feel from their work. The simple promise of being able to live off one’s income is no longer being kept. It’s no longer possible for somebody to lead their life as they please, or to make their own choices. How can the ideal of autonomy be achieved if the riches of society aren’t shared out more widely?
These are the sentiments felt by couples who say they “can’t get by” despite having two jobs, or young workers who still live with their parents because their income is insufficient or too unstable for them to move out.
The anger on display in the protests stems from this impossible equation. And since the collective notion of social class has disappeared in France, this anger is now being experienced on a personal level. Difficult living conditions are now more a matter of personal experience than a condition of class.
The anger from within
Religion has long sought to control anger by placing it among the deadly sins. Yet, as French society has become more secular, religion is no longer working to hold anger back.
French society is also made up of people who think of themselves as autonomous. Today’s important relationship is with one’s self – there is a value placed on authenticity, on personal development, or on listening to your own body.
As the distance from those who govern us increases, it’s become convenient to listen to ourselves and our emotions much more. The success of emoticons in messaging apps and texts are a clear sign of this, and personal feelings are now guiding our lives in thousands of different ways.
In this context, anger is understandable because it’s experienced as a moment of internal connection or clarity. I am even more myself because I am angry – because I’m as close as possible to the inner fire that animates and illuminates me. The pronoun “I” actually fuels this anger. It’s a form of self-expression, like a work of art is for an artist.
At the barricades, or on animated conversations on Facebook, people have the opportunity to meet others with whom they can share and multiply anger that has only been experienced personally until now.
Fuelling more anger
Political parties and trade unions also once controlled and channelled this anger. Now, they no longer can. They’ve been accused of trying to use the gilets jaunes movement or even trying to subvert a point of view that’s deeply personal. Those in power are confronted with groups of people acting individually, some of whose self-esteem is centred around their anger.
As the old saying goes, la colère est mauvaise conseillère or “anger is a bad counsellor”. New perspectives and alternative ways forward are urgently needed. There are few tangible signs that the anger of the gilets jaunes is being taken seriously, and this is perceived as a sign of contempt – not for the organisation, since there is none, but for each person wearing a yellow vest. That will further fuel their anger.
In the face of many individual experiences that have sparked such anger, it’s necessary to explore and develop rational arguments. At the same time, we can’t forget how each person wearing a yellow vest experiences his or her own situation. It won’t be possible to achieve the first without the second.
Learning to be oneself
When the anger subsides, France must learn lessons from the unprecedented gilets jaunes movement. The crisis of representation is deeply affecting the way people are defining themselves politically.
In an appeal published on December 1 in the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, a group calling itself the “gilets jaunes libres” called for regular referendums on large social issues and proportional representation at the next parliamentary elections. This is not surprising. Other ways of moving forward need to be explored, including establishing representative groups drawn at random from lists of voters – a process known as sortition.
From the point of view of citizens, work is needed to be done to better understand the place of the individual within contemporary society. Everyone has a claim to construct their life in the way they want to – and this is an essential source of liberation. We are fortunate to live in a society that opens up so many opportunities for us all – one that’s a long way away from the rigid social restrictions of the past.
But this freedom cannot be without limits. It involves participating in the community and caring for others. How can France bring together individuals who think they are autonomous but who have to live in a world of finite resources? It is this dizzying question that we must answer, each and every one of us.
This article was originally published in French.