Never underestimate French protests and never underestimate tax protests. Still, that seems what French President Emmanuel Macron has been doing…
While the so-called “yellow vests movement” has drawn a few hundred thousand people to sometimes violent protests and road blockades against high taxes on diesel, leading to two deaths and more than 500 people injured, French President Macron is travelling Europe, pontificating about things like an EU army. The protests bear a resemblance to Brexit: ordinary people have had enough, even if it isn’t always clear of what and even if they have been voting for the parties responsible for high taxation. However, to dismiss their anger and to double down on policies to tax diesel, as Macron seems to do, may be very risky.
Former US President Ronald Reagan once described what, according to him, was typically a government’s view of the economy: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” With diesel, the cycle started with subsidies. Between 1995 and 2015, the share of diesel cars on European roads doubled to around 50 per cent. Without government support for diesel-fulled cars, which were thought to emit less CO2 than their petrol counterparts, researchers have concluded the share would have remained constant around 25 per cent.
Now that we’ve arrived in the taxation stage, which has pushed up prices by 23 percent in France over the last year, Macron is feeling the heat. Some 77 per cent of French people now support the yellow vests movement, and the number is rising. Even among Macron’s own voters, support stands at 41 percent. Some of the leaders of former President Hollande’s party are also on the street, despite being the ones who came up with some of the taxes that are being contested. The centre-Right and hard-Left opposition have also united against Macron to express support.
The French socialist party has accused Macron’s government of trying to link this grassroots movement to the far right Marine Le Pen “to better disqualify it”.