Why are the "yellow vests" so angry?

French President Macron is apparently back-pedalling in the wake of the violence during protests by the yellow vests on the weekend. Government sources indicate that the hike in the environmental tax on diesel and petrol will not come into effect. Journalists seek to explain why the people of France are so angry.

Open/close all quotes
ephemeron (GR) /

The last straw

Communications scientist Nikos Smyrnaios of the University of Toulouse sees concrete reasons for the protests in his blog ephemeron.eu:

“The steep rise in the cost of living is pushing more and more employees from the low-wage sector out of city centres. This makes them dependent on cars. ... This trend is being reinforced by the lack of investment in public transport and the gradual privatisation of the railway networks. So the new diesel tax was the last straw. ... During Macron's presidency the discrimination of the lower classes has intensified: tax breaks for the wealthiest companies, cuts in public spending with negative consequences for the welfare state and public services as well as more indirect and unfair taxation.”

Le Point (FR) /

Politics needs passion

The yellow vests are above all incensed at Macron's style of politics, Le Point comments:

“Emmanuel Macron thought he could do politics without politics, by getting rid of its most sensitive component. As politics is essentially about passion, he considered that the passion was necessarily harmful, that it clouded people's judgement and stopped them from thinking clearly, and finally that it deepened the rift between the left and the right which he saw as artificial. ... The president forgot - or ignored - the fact that politics is also sensory in nature, it starts by looking people in the eyes. ... That too he is paying for today.”

Polityka (PL) /

It's all just about the price of diesel fuel

Polityka finds it strange that the French demonstrators' only goal is to defend their own wallets:

“Unlike the Poles, the French don't have to demonstrate for the independence of their judiciary or their constitution. ... The violent protests in France may continue for some time yet. The government will either annul the tax hikes or - as it did after the terrorist attacks - impose a state of emergency. But that does nothing to alter the fact that protests in defence of democracy are not the same thing as protests in defence of the price of diesel fuel.”

Sega (BG) /

France's opposition is the street

The French president is paying a high price for the absolute majority gained by La République en Marche in the National Assembly a year and a half ago, Sega comments:

“Macron got a parliament without a real opposition. Now that the opposition is without a party, its only option is to call attention to itself on the street. Its demands are punchy: the establishment of a 'People's Assembly' to replace the National Assembly, the abolition of the Senate, regular referendums and tax cuts. Moreover the privileges of the elites are to be abolished. What privileges? Weren't they abolished during the French Revolution?”

Les Echos (FR) /

Violence must be condemned

Les Echos is appalled at the violence:

“From now on nothing less than our democracy is under threat. For that reason in view of the terrible violence wreaked by the 'yellow vests' on Saturday in the heart of the capital and several other cities, everyone must take a stand: do you side with the legitimate order of our Republic or with the rebellion against democracy? When the loci of power, history and memory are attacked, as was the case on the weekend, when the right to property is violated, honest shopkeepers robbed and police officers assaulted, it's no longer the president who must be defended but the state itself.”

Kommersant (RU) /

They can run riot, but not talk

The French government lacks dialogue partners in the protest movement, observes Alexey Tarkhanov, French correspondent for Kommersant:

“The peaceful protest is becoming increasingly monopolised by radicals from the left and right. ... The lacking homogeneity of the movement makes it even more unpredictable and anarchical. In the view of Parisian observers the unpopular reforms have turned the middle class, which up to now had been the counterweight to the radicals, against the government. The radicals, for their part, are acting according to the 'the worse, the better' principle. The lack of dialogue remains the main problem: the yellow vests have been invited to the National Assembly and a meeting with the prime minister. But so far they haven't reacted.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Destructive force with no clear direction

The "yellow vest" movement is uniting politically alienated demonstrators on the left and right who seek nothing better than to destroy the existing framework, the Tages-Anzeiger comments:

“The movement distorts Macron's conciliatory gestures and makes them look like a twisted grimace. I'm neither on the right nor the left, says the president. Neither are we, the street screams back at him. By turning his back on the political camps Macron has tried to cast himself as a pragmatic moderniser. Like their president, the people on the road blockades and the barricades have lost their faith in traditional parties. But in their disappointment they are not turning to Macron but instead rejecting everything that smacks of higher authority. All that's left is a destructive force without any clear direction.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Rebellion against disparities across Europe

For Der Standard the roots of the protest are by no means confined to France alone:

“The 'yellow vests' aren't just a reaction to the situation in France, but to social disparities in all of Europe - in all of the West in fact. If you listen carefully, the 'yellow vests' are complaining both about the exorbitant salaries of top managers as well as about the fact that despite their hard work they don't earn more than those on the dole. Just how difficult it is to find answers to this in complex, globalised societies is highlighted by Macron's plunge in the polls. So what next? Both sides are refusing to budge for the moment. Even if Macron wants to sit out the 'yellow vest' protests they will continue to weaken him politically. It's by no means certain that he will really be able to reform the country.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Pro-Europeans losing their champion

Macron is not only under pressure from the streets, writes La Repubblica's Paris correspondent Bernardo Valli:

“Despite their attempts to join the protest movement the opposition parties have been kept on the sidelines so far. The yellow vests don't want them as allies. They haven't taken any party representatives into their ranks. But the far right, the Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) and the far left, La France insoumise, are seeking a no-confidence vote against the government in the National Assembly. They have called the presidency of the Republic into question. The French crisis is weakening Emmanuel Macron as the champion of the Europeans in the spring elections for the renewal of the parliament in Strasbourg.”