|▲ Protestors have requested for a revival of wealth tax and minimum wage increase. (Photo from Pixabay)|
Over the past few months, French citizens have been taking part in a protest called les “Gilets Jaunes” otherwise know and the Yellow Vest Protest. Supporters are calling this the Social Revolution of 2018 following in the footsteps of the French Revolution in 1789 and the 68 Revolution in 1968. Every French driver wore yellow vests in support of the movement that was designed to protest a proposed rise in fuel taxes.
The yellow vest protest, which began with public criticism of the Macron government’s plan to increase taxes on fuel, quickly spread to an overall anti-government protest, calling for the resignation of President Macron. Many French citizens criticized his government for shifting the tax burden to ordinary people while cutting taxes for corporations. As a result of the widespread protest, the French government announced on December 4, 2018, that it would put a halt to its plans to increase the oil tax. However, despite the government’s announcement, the yellow vest protest continued and even turned violent on December 8, 2018, when protesters smashed shop windows and started fires around Paris, colliding with police who fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Following this event, the yellow vest protesters split into two groups, those representing the extreme right and those representing the extreme left. The groups confronted each other in Lyon, southeast of France on February 9, 2019. On top of all this, on January 27, a Red Scarf protest started in an effort to bring an end to the yellow vest protests. They said they were tired of violence and the damages being caused by the on-going fights.
Of course, there are a variety of reasons the yellow vest protests were launched. To understand this matter further, we interviewed An Chang-nam, Professor at Kangnam University’s Dept. of Economics and Tax Administration. According to the professor, the trigger and continual protests can be summarized as a “mistreatment of common people while favoring the rich”.
As we know, the main reason this protest began was to protest the increase in fuel taxes. France proposed an increase in its oil tax to alleviate its fiscal deficit. France is 5 times bigger than Korea in size, however, most public transportation is concentrated in big cities, which means that citizens in the smaller, less populated areas have to use their own cars to get around. They were frustrated because of the continuous increase in fuel taxes. So this policy and others like it were the crux of the platform that launched the yellow vest protest and kept its momentum moving forward. Another example of a policy people were protesting was a plan to revoke the wealth tax for people with more than one billion won in properties. According to our interview, the main purpose of this plan was to encourage foreign investment. A low or no tax policy on assets is attractive to foreign investors and this is thought to be good for a nation because their investments should create more jobs for ordinary citizens.
While citizens had made complaints about several of Macron’s policies, the yellow vest protest was triggered by the actions of one woman by the name of Jacline Mouraud. Ms. Mouraud posted a video online where she talked about the faults of President Macron and how hard her life had become because of his government’s policies. The video got over 6.22 million views and 45,000 likes.
However, as the Yellow Vest Protest progressed, there were some changes in the makeup of the protestors and the cause they were fighting for. To learn more about this, we interviewed Research Professor Choi In-sook of Korea University’s Peace and Democracy Institute. According to Professor Choi, there were three changes that took place during the life of this protest.
|▲ President Macron participated in the debate to convey the citizens. (Photo from Yonhap News)|
First, as the protest decreased in activity, Macron’s approval rating increased. Furthermore, according to the French polling company Elabe, 56 percent of the survey respondents said the protest should end. It was the first time that more than half of the people surveyed wanted to see an end to the protest since it began. The French government’s response could be credited with bringing an end to the protest. Macron launched a public forum and discussion dubbed le Grand Debat or the Big Debate, where the government and citizens would host discussion based on four themes, environment, finance, the organization of the state and democracy and citizenship. The public responded favorably to the openness of the government and as a result, the President’s approval rating increased by 5%.
Secondly, because of these protests, the relationship between France and Italy cooled. On January 20, Italy’s Secretary of Interior stated his support for the Yellow Vest protestors and called for Macron to resign. In response to these remarks, the French government recalled their ambassador. But on February 12, the two countries reconciled and diplomatic relations resumed.
Thirdly, the political makeup of the Yellow Vest protestors changed. Jacline Mouraud, started the protest and declared the formation of a new political party announcing she will run in the 2020 local election. However, pundits see little hope for the party as the group’s political ideologies are split between extreme left and right supporters and there is no clear leader that can unite the divergence of opinions.
|▲ Citizens conflicted with the police. (Photo from Kukmin Ilbo)|
The Yellow Vest Protest played a huge role in delivering citizen complaints about government policies to the French President. While it began as a fuel tax problem, it now carries a deeper meaning of a fight for equality. Even though there were problems and conflicts during the protest process, it can’t be denied that the Yellow Vest Protest should be credited with delivering the will of the people to the government and in turn, they were heard loud and clear.
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