Most of the talking heads in international media will tell you that French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the most popular, charismatic leaders in the world. That may very well be true in Brussels, where he remains a big supporter of the European Union. But back home in Paris, the streets are literally going up in flames because people are protesting his new gas tax and an escalating cost of living. This has now been going on for several weeks and one person was killed during the opening days of the protests. Now the body count is up to three and there are hundreds in jail and the riots are only growing.
Paris police say 133 people have been injured and 412 have been arrested during France’s worst urban riot in years.
Police said Sunday that those injured during Saturday’s protest included 23 police officers. They say 378 of the arrested have been put in police custody after the violence that tore apart parts of central Paris.
A protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot in the French capital, as activists wearing yellow jackets torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti.
In case you missed it, all of this mayhem was set off by the gas tax I mentioned above, but the anger around the country has been simmering for a while. The New York Times has a lengthy history of what brought the “yellow vest” protesters out from the countryside and into Paris. Under Macron, many new programs have been put in place to reshape how France does business, but these “reforms” cost a lot of money and many in the middle class can no longer pay their bills with all the new taxes and price increases. Some of the protesters with good jobs claim that there’s no money for food during the last week of the month before their next paycheck arrives.
The gas tax seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Macron wants to move his country off of fossil fuels and into green energy. Paying for such changes by jacking up the price of gasoline has sparked actual fires in the streets. The reality is that France has unprecedented access to cheaper gasoline, including growing supplies from the United States, so this is a crisis of Macron’s own making.
In a telling bit of irony, the French President wound up having to skip an EU climate meeting to focus on the riots and decide whether or not to declare a state of emergency. He’s still vowing that he “won’t back down” in the face of the riots, but with people telling their stories of empty cupboards and skipped meals, Macron’s public statements are edging closer to “let them eat cake” territory. That strategy didn’t work out very well for Marie Antoinette and it probably won’t for Macron either. Fortunately for him, the peasants don’t have ready access to guillotines these days.