French Government Suspends Energy Tax Hikes After Massive Protests

Published December 18, 2018

In response to three weeks of public protests, including riots and clashes with police, against French President Emmanuel Macron’s climate policies, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the government was suspending planned increases in taxes on gasoline and other energy sources slated to begin in January.

“The tax is now abandoned,” Philippe said in announcing the decision in December.

Nearly 300,000 protesters, many wearing yellow vests, took to the streets, including tens of thousands in Paris, in the protest’s first weekend in mid-November.

By the third weekend of the protests, the number of protesters had decreased to approximately 136,000, but the violence increased, resulting in Macron calling an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers at which he raised the possibility of bringing in additional security forces to suppress the demonstrations.

Concession, Then Capitulation

In a televised address on December 3 after the cabinet meeting, Philippe announced the government would delay the tax and regulatory increases for six months. Philippe and Macron both told the press they hoped the delay would mollify protestors and end the street occupation and violence.

It didn’t. Benjamin Cauchy, a leader of the protests, told the British Broadcasting Corporation the proposal to postpone the tax was “either a disguised political snub or … to make fun of the French and put the tax back in six months.” Cauchy called on the public to continue protesting. They did.

Instead of appeasing the protesters, the government’s action encouraged other groups to join in, with trade unions and farmers announcing they were joining the protests. This resulted in Macron scrapping the gas tax increase entirely.

Gas Taxes Sparked Protest

The protests were sparked by the pending implementation of Macron’s plans to increase taxes on gasoline, diesel, and electricity and to enforce stricter limits on emissions from vehicles in an effort to force people out of their cars and suburban homes and onto public transit and into densely populated cities.

In France, gasoline prices top $7.00 per gallon, and diesel costs more than $6.00 per gallon, with most of the price resulting from fuel taxes imposed by the national government. These taxes are scheduled to increase annually in the coming years, to meet Macron’s carbon dioxide emission reduction goals.

Grenades, Gas, Water Cannons

In sometimes violent clashes, protesters singing the national anthem and carrying signs saying “Macron, resignation” and “Macron, thief” erected barricades and stormed barriers put up by the 3,000 to 5,000 security forces deployed to keep them away from the presidential palace and the National Assembly. Outside of Paris, protestors blocked highways, took over motorway toll booths, and obstructed access to gas stations and shopping malls.

More than 130 people were arrested, more than 600 were injured (including police), and two people died during the first weekend of the protests, as police used smoke grenades, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse or redirect protesters.

An additional 133 people were injured, including one person who died, and 412 people were arrested as the protests and riots gained steam again on December 2, even as the French government sent representatives to Katowice, Poland to attend the annual United Nations climate conference to reaffirm France’s commitment to carbon dioxide emission reductions agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Phillipe, who was to be part of the French delegation at the meetings, cancelled his trip to deal with the crisis.

Until Phillipe’s announcement, Macron had said the protests would not alter the government’s energy tax plans. News outlets had reported Macron said the tax increases and other energy restrictions would proceed at “exactly the same pace” because they were necessary to reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions and fund planned green energy programs.

‘Environmental Jet Set’

The protests show average people are tired of politically powerful elites imposing unjustified, costly climate policies on them, says Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D., president of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“These protests reflect that even the French have had it with the elitist climate alarmists like Al Gore and Macron,” Huelskamp said. “Although not violent, Americans have a similarly negative response to the radical policies proposed by the environmental jet set.

“The world simply can’t afford the suspect science, poor policies, and elitist views of these global climate alarmists,” said Huelskamp.

Timothy Benson ([email protected]is a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute.