Travelers contemplating a trip to France in 2019 are trying to determine whether the Yellow Vest movement has run its course, or whether there is more of it still to come. Paris Luxury Tours has had some prospective clients postponing booking their 2019 tours, and others who have booked anyway, assuming that sanity will prevail. As of this writing, there have been six consecutive Saturdays when the movement’s supporters demonstrated, but the last one on Dec. 22 showed a sharp drop in the number of participants. That could be the result of significant concessions made by the government that may have assuaged the movement. It could also be that the protesters were weary and preferred to turn their attention to preparing for the imminent Christmas and New Year holidays.
Superficially, it appears that the movement has run out of steam, but it is useful to remember that the spirit of the French Revolution is a distinct part of France’s culture, and it has not been laid to rest. If you skim the history of France since 1789 you see that there have been regular periodic eruptions that were animated by that spirit throughout the 19thand 20thcenturies. The revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Commune in 1871 and the riots of May 1968 come to mind.
The Yellow Vest movement could be considered another example of that spirit, even though it was ostensibly about a very ordinary issue: the government’s application of tax hikes on fuel. It has since abandoned the hikes, but the speed with which the movement spread, and the momentum it quickly acquired to assimilate other tax reduction demands points to a wider malaise in the French population. It might not take much to ignite it again, once the holidays are over.
The stark reality is that making ends meet in France is a true challenge and many French citizens feel they are unable to cope. According to Wikipedia, the average net salary after taxes in France is 2.225 € per month. That does not take into-account a wide range of other taxes, such as VAT (20%), habitation, property and, to be sure, taxes on fuel. If you factor in the high cost of living, you might wonder how the average French citizen manages.
It is also true that the government of Emmanuel Macron provoked the Yellow Vest movement with its terrible timing in announcing the fuel tax increases: the price of Brent crude oil declined from $ 85 to $ 58 per barrel between the start of October and the end of November, a decline of 32%. In that time the average price of diesel fuel dropped only 3% from 1.51 € per liter to 1.46 € per liter. One wonders why greater cost savings were not passed on to the consumer, and why a price increase was contemplated at all! Could it be that the government wanted to have its cake and to eat it, too?
Emmanuel Macron was elected with a mandate to set France’s financial affairs in order and to energize the French economy. His efforts to liberate the economy by making it easier to hire and fire personnel and to lower taxes on the wealthy to encourage investment will take time to produce results. The Yellow Vests were quick to target the measures Macron has put in place. Will the French give Macron the time he needs to produce results? Or will they take to the streets? That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, militants such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Edwy Plenel will do their best to re-launch the Yellow Vest movement.