We’ve had enough. We have low salaries and pay too much tax and the combination is creating more and more poverty,” said French protestor Idhir Ghanes.
A series of demonstrations against fuel price increases in the past few days has turned violent in France. Two were reported dead, and hundreds were injured. The protest, which started on Nov. 17 reached its peak a week later and turned into a movement to protest a tax increase and voice disapproval of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Macron administration announced plans to continually increase the tax on diesel fuel. The policy is related to the energy transformation program introduced by the young president aimed at tackling global warming. He insisted the fuel tax increase is necessary so France will not be heavily dependent on fossil fuel. The increase also aims to fund investments in the renewable energy sector.
The worst riot in Paris took place on the Champs-Elysees, a main thoroughfare. At least 5,000 police officers were deployed to guard hundreds of thousands of demonstrators wearing yellow vests – which are compulsory for French drivers to carry in their cars in case of an emergency.
Besides Paris other cities in France also saw large-scale demonstrations. According to data from the Ministry of Interior, at least 100,000 people took part in around 1,600 demonstrations across the country Nov. 17.
Most of the protests were peaceful, except in Paris, which involved around 8,000 demonstrators.
The Protest Is Not Just about Fuel
The rise in daily expenses also united people to join the anti-government protest. French people think life is getting harder than ever, and Macron does not want to listen to the voice of his people.
“We are here to protest against the government because of the rise in taxes [in general], not just petrol taxes, which is the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’ve had enough. We have low salaries and pay too much tax and the combination is creating more and more poverty,” said Idhir Ghanes to the Guardian, an unemployed computer technician from Paris.
Macron, whose background is banking, does not seem to understand how hard life is, as one of the Paris residents said.
“Above all, President Macron has not listened to the ordinary French and doesn’t understand the concerns of their daily lives. When he appears on television, we have the impression he is uncomfortable with normal people, that there is a certain contempt for us,” a woman named Florence told the Guardian. Florence (no last name given) is an air freight worker who also resides in Paris, and who describes herself as moderate or center-right.
The Tax Fuel Is to Fund Eco-friendly Projects
In an interview with Euronews, transportation expert Mathieu Chassignet explained, tax plays a large part in determining the fuel price in France. Referring to the government data, tax accounts for 60 percent of the price, while the remaining depends on oil price per barrel.
There are two types of fuel-related tax: domestic consumption tax on energy-related products consisting of the carbon tax and the value-added tax.
This tax revenue helps to fund the state budget in general, including environment-friendly projects. The government expects the tax revenue will reach around 7.8 billion Euro in 2019. However, the funding for such an eco-friendly project is not merely from this fuel tax, but other taxes as well.
The diesel tax is bigger than other taxes because of the pollution this type of fuel causes. Therefore, the diesel tax is higher than that of other fuel to deter people from buying diesel-powered cars.
The minister said there are several plans to help French people deal with this new policy, such as financial incentives to replace cars with eco-friendly vehicles. Also, the government offers a subsidy called an “ecological bonus” for drivers who rent or buy electric cars.
Diesel price has increased by 23 percent in the past 12 months. The price reached its peak at 1.5 Euro per liter since the 2000s.
Paris raised the hydrocarbon tax to 7.6 cents per liter for diesel and 3.9 cents for premium.
Are the Protests Politically Motivated?
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused the National Rally Party led by Marine Le Pen of provoking the violent demonstrations. However, freelance journalist Nabilla Ramdani believes there is a wide social gap that triggered the bloody demonstration as she wrote in the Independent.
“The majority of those I spoke to were part of a forgotten France based in the suburbs of major cities or the countryside…. They rely on very low incomes or benefits and are mainly dependent on their cars to get them anywhere. Their rage is aimed at a metropolitan elite who not only have far more money and power but who can afford to pay for the kind of green initiatives, which are partly behind the fuel price rises,” she wrote.