Yellow Vest and the Political Unrest

By John Dunnam

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”[1] The French are passionate people who are not afraid to protest, as marked by their long history.[2] There have been several civil unrest situations dating back to The French Revolution[3]  and more recently the 2005 French Riots,[4] the 2017 May Day protest,[5] and the 2018 Gilets Jaunes protest, also known as the Yellow Vests.[6]  The Gilets Jaunes, known as the Yellow Vests, protest is the most recent major protest in France, taking place in the later part of 2018.[7] As a result of these protests, the Yellow Vests have received concessions from Emmanuel Macron, France’s President, including canceling the fuel tax increase, increasing minimum wage, and reducing taxes on overtime and pensions.[8] What led the Yellow Vests to revolt? Was it successful? What does this mean for France in the future?

The Yellow Vests protests started as a “demonstration against Macron’s carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases,” but have since served as a platform to cast a wider net against Macron and the current economic environment of France.[9] Uniquely enough, the Yellow Vest protesters do not have a central unified group, but began when Eric Drouet reached out through Facebook for French citizens to express their dissatisfaction by wearing the Yellow Vest in protest.[10] The group has been difficult to negotiate with because it lacks central unification and has developed in large pockets throughout the country.[11] Recently, Eric Drouet, who first posted about the protest on Facebook, was arrested for “organizing a central Paris protest without declaring it.”[12] In 2008 a French law was enacted requiring cars to have a “high-visibility garment” in their car during emergencies; the protestors now wear these bright yellow reflective vests as a symbol of their outcry.[13] The Yellow Vests are protesting high oil prices and economic inequalities including the tax on pensions, tax on overtime, and the minimum wage.[14]  Many believe the president, Macron,  is insensitive of the middle class and has implemented reforms that benefit the wealthy upper class. [15] The citizen revolt has spread throughout France as a result of “general anger over economic inequality and a heavy fiscal burden.”[16] The Gilets Jaunes protest spanned four consecutive weekends—November 17th, November 24th, December 1st, and December 8th.[17] Each of the organized protests were attended by large amounts of demonstrators, leading to many wounded, a few deaths, and an excessive amount of individuals put in custody.[18] The November 17th protest was the largest protest with 282,000 protestors, resulting in one dead, 409 wounded, and 73 arrested.[19] The following November 24th protests were composed of 166,000 protestors and led to 84 wounded and 307 in custody. The December 1st protests were led by 136,000 protestors and resulted in 630 in custody, 263 wounded, and one dead.[20] The last of the protests was held on December 8th by 136,000 protesters resulting in 1,120 in custody and 118 wounded.[21] The protests have sparked similar Yellow Vest protests in Brussels, resulting in the arrest of 400 individuals.[22] Brussels is not the only place facing similar Yellow Vests protests—they are happening in several European countries.[23] This initial anti-tax demonstration by the Yellow Vests turned into violent protests that resulted in a government compromise.[24] President Macron’s concessions will cost the government between $8.1 billion and $10.1 billion.[25] While the French government made this financial promise, the future will determine how much of the promise is actually kept.[26]  The French government has additionally agreed to increase the minimum wage by 7% and remove taxes on overtime and pensions.[27] These concessions may not be enough, as some protestors are still calling for Macron’s resignation.[28] President Macron’s concessions may lead one to believe that the Yellow Vest protestors were successful in their mission.

      In addition to the government concessions, France saw their stores looted, streets vandalized, industries lose revenue, and tourism industry decrease because of the violent Yellow Vests protests.[29] Dissatisfaction with the economy sparked this protest, with laws in place that some believed harmed small business and unions.[30]  The protests seemingly somewhat contradict the demonstrator’s wishes because business and tourism are being negatively impacted.[31] Retailers were forced to barricade shops, Christmas markets were closed, and soccer matches were cancelled because of the protest.[32] Although the protestors believe the government is ruining the economy, their protests are negatively impacting the French economy.[33] The demands of the Yellow Vest have impacted the French market negatively, resulting in the Euro falling.[34] The negative effect of the Yellow Vest protest on the economy is not a measure of success for the demonstrators, but cause one to wonder whether their protest are beneficial or only setting France back.

            France is going to have to make some adjustments to appease the demonstrators long term; however, the concessions the French government made may not have the intended positive effect the Yellow Vest protestors hoped for.[35] There is potential that the French government’s change in economic direction with its concessions that the French economy only worsens.[36]  Additionally, the destruction caused by the protestors has already negatively impacted France. The Gilets Jaunes protest have sparked copycat protests in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, and Amsterdam.[37]  While people cannot sit around and wait for change, demonstrators and protestors need to work to closely align their desired outcomes with their methods of protesting.

[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book 3, Ch.15 (1859).

[2] Helene Fouquet, History to Macron: French Protesters Always Win, Bloomberg (Dec. 4, 2018),  

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6]  Mathew Dalton & Noemie Bisserbe, Macron Blinks in Fuel-Tax Dispute with Yellow Vests, Wall St. J.: World, Europe (Dec. 4, 2018),

[7] Id.

[8] Ciara Nugent, French Protesters just Won Concessions From Macron. Here’s Why They’re More Successful than American Demonstrators, Time (Dec. 12, 2018),

[9] Holly Ellyatt, France’s Macron expected to promise change amid riots and’ economic catastrophe’- but is it too late?, CNBC: Europe Politics (Dec. 10, 2018),

[10] Mathew Dalton, Paris Riots Reveal Disillusion and Despair in French Hinterlands, Wall St. J.: World, Europe (Dec. 9, 2018),

[11] Mathew Dalton, Five Things on the France Protests, Wall. St. J.: World, Europe (Dec. 8, 2018),

[12] Agence France- Presse, ‘Yellow vest’ leader Eric Drouet arrested, ABSCBN news (Jan. 03, 2019),

[13] Vanessa Friedman, The Power of the Yellow Vest, N.y Times (Dec. 4, 2018),

[14] Nugent, supra note 8.

[15]James McAuley, Why are the ‘yellow vests’ still protesting in France? His name is Macron., The Wash. Post (Dec. 8, 2018),

[16] Adam Nossiter, Macron Vows Order ‘Without Compromise’ in Rebuke to Yellow Vest Protests, N.Y. Times (Dec. 31, 2018)

[17] Yellow Vest protests: Macron hosts crisis meeting, BBC News (Dec. 10, 2018),  

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] 400 arrested in Brussels copycat ‘yellow vest’ protest, S. China Morning Post, (Dec. 09, 2018),

[23] French ‘yellow vests’ spark copycats and fakes abroad, MSN (Dec. 15,2018),

[24] Will Kirby, France protests: Macron promises tax concessions minimum wage rise in response to violence, Independent (Dec. 10, 2018)

[25] Nugent, supra note 8.

[26] Nossiter, supra note 16.

[27] Nugent, supra note 8.

[28] S. China Morning Post, supra note 22.  

[29] Inti Landauro & Myriam Rivet, ‘Yellow vest’ protesters knock wind out of French business, economy, Reuters (Dec. 3, 2018),

[30] Dalton, supra note 10.

[31] Noemie Bissebe, Nick Kostov, & Stacy Meichtry, Riots Resurface Across France, Piling Pressure on Macron, Wall St. J.: World, Europe (Dec. 9, 2018),

[32] Id.

[33] Euro falls as ‘gilets jaunes’ protests hit French economy, BBC News (Dec. 14, 2018),

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] MSN, supra note 23.