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President Macron to reconsider fuel tax after worst Paris riots in half a century

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

The Future Citizen Institute recently discussed John Kerry's statement that the "world is headed for catastrophe" if climate change measures are not taken immediately. Meanwhile, the French have protested against a fuel tax aimed at reducing carbon emissions, resulting in the worst riots Paris has seen in the last 50 years.

Earlier this year, French authorities planned to introduce a new fuel tax as part of an environmental agenda, hoping to be the first step towards a low-carbon economy. The tax would result in an additional rise in already-high oil prices for French drivers, leading them to band together and take the streets in protest. As of the 3rd of December, the city had suffered 1.5 million euros in damages.

President Macron has always focused on an environmental policy, pledging to reduce 50% of the national energy mix by 2035 by closing some of the country’s nuclear reactors.

But instead of open arms, the tax was met with the worst protest the French capital has seen in 50 years, triggering anti-Macron sentiments at full splendour. As of Monday, there have been 133 people injured and the government has deployed 37,000 police officers, 30,000 firefighters, and 30,000 gendarmes to face the protest. More than 400 people have been arrested.

The new fuel tax coupled with the overall rise in oil prices, would result in a steep increase in the cost of petrol for the average French citizen: fuel prices will increase by close to $0.30 USD per gallon and will continue to rise. The current price of a gallon sits at about $7.06 USD, signalling a 4% increase. Drivers say fuel prices have risen steadily over the last years but wages have remained the same, making this fuel tax an even bigger burden.

The protests had months of build up, after a Paris suburb resident started an online petition during the summer to lower fuel costs, as most suburban residents rely on their own cars for transportation. Initially, the petition got a few hundred signatures, enough to show general discontent, but not enough to be relevant.

It was not until October that a truck driver that resided in a nearby area saw the petition and began circulating it. Soon, newspapers had picked it up and signatures catapulted to more than 200,000.

This was taken to social media, where the “yellow vests”, taken after the reflective vests all drivers must carry in case of emergencies, amassed and set off to storm the French capital, vandalising and burning cars in the process. The petition now has more than 1.5 million signatures.

The scope of the protests have amplified to become an overall critique of the country’s leadership and economy, with experts saying the fuel tax was simply the tipping point of months of discontent, triggering an outburst of frustration against many branches of the government.

President Macron has often been criticised for being “pro-rich”, ignoring the worries of the average citizen in favour of the higher class. Protesters have compared him to Louis XVI, the last French monarch, who was guillotined after the French Revolution.

Other protesters have deemed climate change policies as a “war against the poor”, as they usually involve tariffs and taxes on fuel, energy, and plastics, all of which are staples for lower-income citizens.

Both the President and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe were set to meet representatives from the “yellow vests”, however, the representatives backed down from the meeting, allegedly for fear of repercussions from the rest of the group.

Political leaders have also spoken, with 12 out of 13 regional leaders urging the president to revise the tax, supporting the premise of reducing fuel emissions, but stressing that the effect on the citizens requires thorough consideration.

The President has so far expressed himself strongly against violence, saying he will “not give in” and that violent protesters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He does, however, acknowledge the discontent of French drivers, who have to succumb to driving a car as they are forced into the suburbs: "We pushed them into this situation… they are the victims of this situation, they have not created it," he said.

Author: Ana Hernandez

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