Gilets Jaunes one year on: What have the 'yellow vests' achieved?
A year ago this weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters angry about a new fuel tax took to the streets across France, wearing the high visibility jackets motorists have to carry in their cars in case of emergency.
The so-called `"yellow vests" ("gilets jaunes") eventually snowballed into a wider anti-government movement.
But in recent weeks, the roundabouts and central squares once filled with brightly-dressed protesters have stood empty. So, a year on, what did the "yellow vests" achieve and do they belong to history just yet?
As the movement marks its first anniversary with fresh protests — including clashes in northwest Paris that led to tear gas being fired — Euronews looks at its origins, evolution, and prospects for the future.
How did it begin?
Responding to calls launched on Facebook, on 17 November 2018, over 280,000 people wearing yellow jackets took to the streets and roundabouts across the country.
They were not affiliated with any political party nor trade union and had no designated leader.
The protests were there to stay: every Saturday, mass demonstrations against the government were held in major French cities, while citizens continued to occupy roundabouts throughout the week.
While protests were initially peaceful, many took a violent turn. For months, tear gas clouded the boulevards of Paris most Saturdays as protesters skirmished with riot police, whose heavy-handed response drew condemnation from rights groups. In some of the worst rioting in Paris in decades, luxury boutiques were smashed up, national monuments defaced and cars set ablaze.
While the protests were initially against a proposed fuel tax, they quickly spiralled into broader protests against social inequality, high costs of living and President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business policies.
Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent figure of the movement, told Euronews that what drove people to the streets was quite simple: “All that people want is to be able to live from their salaries,” Rodrigues said. “Just having enough to eat until the end of the month and being able to take the kids to the movies once in a while."
In addition to socio-economic demands, protesters also developed new demands about political participation such as the so-called référendum d’initiative citoyenne (citizen initiatives to launch referendums).
How did the government respond?
The government quickly scrapped the proposed fuel tax but it wasn’t quite enough to quell the uprising.
So President Emmanuel Macron launched the so-called "Great National Debate" in January, touring the country while calling for citizens' contributions, in an attempt to break his elitist, out-of-touch image.
Six months down the line, the public consultations produced €17 billion worth of tax cuts and other fiscal incentives.
Eric Bothorel, an MP from Macron’s party La République en Marche (LREM), told Euronews the "yellow vests" movement had “completely shaken up the parliamentary agenda” of the past year.
The National Assembly held sessions in December in the run-up to Christmas to pass the first measures announced by the head of state, he said, all while preparing for the "Great National Debate".
He cited tax exemptions for retirement pensions and a rise in benefits for disabled people among the key measures taken in response to the protests.
What has the movement achieved?
Many "yellow vest" protesters, however, remain unconvinced by the government’s concessions.
Rodrigues told Euronews that the results one year on were ‘meagre’ when it came to achieving the demands of the protesters --the only exception being the tax-free premium, according to him. In December 2018, the government announced that companies capable of doing so would pay out a tax-free premium to employees at the end of the year.
Political scientist Christian Le Bart, who teaches at Sciences Po Rennes (western France), shared his opinion. While the "yellow vests" obtained “small” concessions from the government, those “didn’t turn the tables,” he said.
MP Bothorel challenged this narrative -- enumerating the key measures and their costs. “Of course, there will always be people to say that it is not enough, that it’s hard to live with the minimum wage. I can’t say anything. It’s true,” Bothorel said, adding: “We’re working on it”.
According to Rodrigues, not only did the "yellow vests" achieved little in terms of socio-economic reforms, but they also suffered police repression and “mutilations” he said.
Rodrigues recalled how he lost vision in his eye after being “attacked” by security forces last January. But the following Saturday, he was back on the streets protesting with fellow "yellow vest" comrades.
A total of 24 protesters lost an eye after defensive bullets launcher (LBD) shots, AFP news agency reported.
According to authorities, about 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 security forces were injured,