Woman killed during French fuel tax protests

Demonstrations across the country underline discontent with Macron’s reforms

‘Yellow-vest’ protesters opposed to increased French fuel taxes block the motorway in Antibes at the weekend © Reuters

Financial Times, David Keohane in Paris

NOVEMBER 18, 2018

A protester was killed in France and 409 people were injured this weekend after more than 2,000 demonstrations broke out across the country over the government’s decision to increase fuel taxes.

On Saturday some 287,000 protesters blocked roads and halted traffic on Saturday, according to the interior ministry. One woman was killed in the east of France after she was hit by a car when a driver panicked after being stopped by the protesters, according to local authorities. More than 280 people were arrested.

The protests continued on Sunday, with about 150 blockades “under surveillance,” according to the interior ministry. Some 200 demonstrators attempted unsuccessfully to block access to the Disneyland theme park.

Around 28 members of the security forces and emergency services were among the injured, including a firefighter seriously hurt while trying to prevent demonstrators from attacking a closed service station.

In Paris tear gas was used by police to repel protesters trying to reach the Elysée Palace and chanting slogans urging President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

The nationwide protests were some of the most serious since Mr Macron took office last year, turning the tables on a leader who captured the power of a grassroots movement to seize the presidency.

Unaffiliated to unions or political parties, the so-called “yellow-vests” movement started with an online petition against the government’s decision to increase fuel taxes to spur drivers to switch to greener vehicles. Within a few weeks, it coalesced into a broader collection of people who feel disregarded and impoverished by the French leader.

The protest underlined the widespread anger Mr Macron is facing less than two years into his five-year term. The president enjoys a solid majority in parliament, allowing him to continue to pass reform bills. But his approval ratings have sunk to lower levels than those of his unpopular predecessor, after his government suffered a series of resignations and was shaken by revelations this summer that a presidential aide had beaten up May Day protesters.

Since then Mr Macron, who some have labelled “president of the rich” and accused of being an out-of-touch urbanite, has been struggling to reboot his presidency.

“The relationship between Macron and the French is broken. It’s finished,” said one 36-year-old man who was protesting for the first time on Saturday at Place de la Bastille in Paris.

More than two-thirds of French people back the yellow-vests protests, whose many faces include Jacline Mouraud, a 51-year-old mother of three from Brittany who posted a video on Facebook to take issue with Mr Macron.

“What do you do with the dough [raised by tax increases], apart from changing the plates at the Elysée or building yourselves swimming pools?” she asks in the video, which has been viewed more than 6m times. Recommended Global Insight Anne-Sylvaine Chassany Emmanuel Macron’s fatigue gives his government the blues

The protests highlight the increasing discontent from rural and suburban voters who have to use their cars on a daily basis. Over the summer, a government measure to cut the speed limit from 90kph to 80kph on secondary roads had already enraged motorists. Politicians on the left and right have embraced the uprising. Last Wednesday the government unveiled a series of measures worth around €500m aimed at helping those hardest hit by the taxes.

That evening, the president appeared on television with a mea culpa. “I have failed to reconcile the French people with their leaders,” Mr Macron told TF1 in a rare moment of humility. “I hear the anger and I think it’s a fundamental right in our society to be allowed to express it.”