By: Dr. Ashley Nunes
France is considering a state of emergency to quell some of the worst social unrest the country has seen in over a decade. A Monday appearance at the COP 24 climate change summit by French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe was abruptly canceled. Philippe instead spent the day with political leaders, discussing how to defuse nationwide protests that have increasingly turned violent. Over the weekend, cars in Paris were torched, stores looted and the Arc de Triomphe – a symbol of victory during the Napoleonic wars – vandalized. Over 400 people were arrested and more than 100 injured include 23 members of the security services.
What’s driving the unrest?
The protests mostly center on gas prices, particularly diesel. French motorists mostly own diesel-powered vehicles and diesel prices have risen sharply. The blame – motorists say – lies with government policies that took effect at the beginning of 2018 and add an additional 7.6 cents in taxes for each liter of diesel purchased. Data from the European Commission shows France’s tax on the fuel – estimated to be around 59 percent – is one of the highest in the European Union.
Motorists – particularly in rural and outer suburban areas – are also upset with the French government for cutting speed limits on local roads. That policy, which took effect on July 1, requires that motorists slow down on France’s so-called secondary network – over 400,000 kilometers of two-way, one-lane-each way roads. A survey found over 70 percent of respondents opposed the move – with one noting that drivers “should not become the cash cows of the state.”