French Protests Against Gasoline Taxes Stretch to Third Day

(Bloomberg) -- Protests against gasoline taxes in France continued for a third day Monday with sporadic actions around the country as the government held firm.

Ten of France’s roughly 200 fuel depots were blockaded, including those near Rennes, La Rochelle, Toulouse and Marseille, BFM television reported. A highway to Belgium was also blocked as were roads near Belfort in the east and Lyon in the south. Police removed 30 people occupying a highway near Avignon in the south, the station said.

A grassroots movement branded "Gilets Jaunes" or "Yellow Vests" organized a national “Day of Action” Saturday when about 300,000 protesters threw up about 2,000 roadblocks. One person was killed when a driver forced a barrier, and hundreds were injured or arrested. On Sunday, about 40,000 people erected about 150 barricades.

The protests were organized on social media and lack any central organization. While the ostensible purpose is to roll back the gasoline taxes, participants interviewed on French media over the weekend listed a litany of discontent ranging from a recent tightening of speed limits to lack of public services in rural areas to general unhappiness about purchasing power.

“We have a movement here that’s a a bit of left and a bit of right against a background of widespread discontent,” said Sylvain Boulouque, a historian who has written books about French extremism. “Opinion could turn against the movement if the blockages become permanent.”

Public Support

An Elabe poll released over the weekend said 73 percent of the French approve of the protests, which have underlined the divide between urban supporters of President Emmanuel Macron and small-town voters who rely on their cars. But that poll was taken before the disruption led to angry standoffs between drivers and protesters

Demonstrators are aiming to sustain their actions all week with some local organizers calling for a blockade of highways in and out of Paris next Saturday.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday night vowed the government won’t roll back gasoline levies, arguing that other tax cuts on wages and housing have reduced the overall burden on taxpayers. He also warned the police could be sent in to lift blockades.

“France is a land of free expression but it is not a country of anarchy, and there were scenes of anarchy,” Philippe said.

Gas Prices

Macron has said in interviews that he prefers to tax carbon than labor. He was silent about the protests during a Sunday visit to Berlin and Monday he left for a two-day official visit to Belgium.

Taxes account for about 60 percent of the price at the pump in France. The government increased its hydrocarbon tax at the start of the year by 7.6 cents per liter on diesel and 3.9 cents to gasoline, and a new boost at the start of next year will add another 6.5 cents per liter of diesel and 2.9 cents per liter of gasoline, part of an effort to bring diesel and gasoline taxes in line.

Diesel prices at the pump in France have risen 16 percent this year to an average 1.48 euros ($1.67) a liter, though the price did hit 1.53 euros in early October, according UFIP, the French oil industry federation. Gasoline is up 5 percent to 1.47 euros per liter, after peaking at 1.57 euros.

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