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Eye on France: 23 November 2018

What better topic for Black Friday than the angry efforts of the French yellow vests?

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It’s hard to get away from people in yellow vests . . . these are the protestors against proposed increases in fuel prices who have been blocking roads and dominating French front pages for the best part of a week.

President Emmanuel Macron started by promising to be inflexible, saying the tax increases on carbon fuels are essential if France is to finance the fight against global warming. Now, according to today’s edition of the business paper Les Echos, he’s promising to make a major effort to sell the so-called ecological transition to angry voters. Especially those who live in rural areas and are therefore dependent on their cars.

There’s to be a new presidential declaration on Tuesday. There’ll also be more money, more discussion and a clear approach.

About time too, you can hear them saying over at right-wing Le Figaro.

The journalists at the conservative daily have been mulling over President Macron’s multiple failures in putting green taxation in place. First of all, he did the opposite to what was recommended by his advisors and assorted climate experts. Worse, it looks as if the fuel price increases scheduled to come into effect in January are without serious scientific justification, and lack the support of the social partners . . . bosses, unions, industry, Uncle Tom Cobley and his yellow vest.

When former president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to introduce the first carbon tax, in 2010, promising “to save the human race,” he started by appointing an enthusiastic panel of experts only to pull back from legislation when then prime minister François Fillon said saving the human race was all very fine, but saving the competitiveness of French businesses was a lot finer.

And then it was the turn of Socialist president François Hollande who actually got something called a “climate energy contribution” onto the French statute books. That was in 2015 and the initial rate for the so-called contribution was . . . zero euros. That, added to the collapse of the global price of petrol, meant that nobody noticed a thing. Yellow vests were people on bikes.

Poor old Macron has not been as lucky.

Three months ago he lost his environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who slammed the door saying that Macron's Republic on the Move government was simply not doing enough to fight climate chaos and the collapse of biodiversity.

Hulot was, in fact, the father of the current version of the carbon tax, but his vision was of a series of charges linked to a serious social effort, to ensure that the poorest were not the most harshly penalised.

He clearly thinks the Macron legislation is crucially flawed since it creates a caricatural clash between social and ecological needs. That’s worse than illogical, he says, since it’s the poor who suffer worst from pollution and flooding.

Nicolas Hulot was on telly last night, and he more-or-less said that the green movement had to reconcile the end of the month with the end of the world. Which is shapely rhetoric, but hardly points the way ahead.

One Breton yellow vest has since called Hulot a “joke,” saying the popular movement wasn’t going to let people die on the roads in order to save the planet.

Hulot doesn’t think that’s a real alternative. “Either we act together,” he says, “or we die together like idiots.”

Which has, at least, the virtue of clarity.

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