Only 7,000 French yellow vest protesters turned out for the latest round of demonstrations – and only 950 in Paris – in a sign that the movement is fizzling out.
At the height of their momentum in late 2018, the ‘gilets jaunes’ gathered 250,000 people to voice their rage against President Macron and the high cost of living in France.
The mass protests often brought violence and fiery carnage to the centre of Paris, piling huge pressure on Macron.
But the movement has been beset by division, and its candidates collected just 0.5 per cent of the vote at last month’s European Parliament elections.
With Macron regaining some momentum and now lining up new reforms, one protester told the Wall Street Journal: ‘I’ve put my yellow vest back in the car glove compartment’.
The yellow vest protest in France – which at the height of their momentum set fire to cars (pictured last November) and gathered 250,000 people – appears to be fizzling out
The protests acquired their name from the vests which French drivers are required to keep in their cars.
They began as a protest against a fuel tax increase, but quickly mushroomed into a wider assault on the Macron presidency.
Macron, who was elected on a centrist platform in 2017, was criticised for being out of touch and a ‘president of the rich’.
In particularly violent protests in November and December, rioters torched cars and covered the Arc de Triomphe in graffiti as they called on Macron to quit.
French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured watching the Women’s World Cup in Paris) has been under huge pressure from the yellow vest protests
The president’s approval rating plunged as low as 18 per cent in one survey amid widespread anger across France.
The protesters have been staging their rallies every Saturday since then but their numbers started to dwindle after the turn of the year.
Yesterday was their 31st consecutive weekend of protests, but the numbers have fallen by more than 95 per cent since their peak last year.
According to French media there were only 7,000 protesters across the country on Saturday, and a mere 950 in the capital.
Violence at the protests put some French people off the movement, which struggled with a lack of leadership amid claims it was being hijacked by the extreme left and the far right.
There were cases of protesters hurling anti-Semitic abuse, including at noted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut.
In addition, French unemployment fell to its lowest level since 2009 earlier this year, allowing Macron to claim credit for reviving the economy.
The President went on a listening tour and his approval rating has ticked up since the depths of late 2018, although most French voters still say they disapprove of his performance.
Macron scrapped the fuel tax rise, offered an income tax cut and made numerous expensive concessions in a bid to quell protesters’ rage.
A yellow vest protester stands in front of burning cars near the Champs Elysees in Paris last December during the height of the yellow vest demonstrations
Protests have continued every Saturday – seen here in Nantes on May 11 – but numbers have dwindled and only 7,000 turned out for the latest round
Last month his party came behind Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party in the European Parliament elections, although the result was narrow enough that the Elysee could say that the worst had been avoided.
Now, Macron and his prime minister Edouard Philippe are eyeing up new reforms to reboot their administration.
Mr Philippe said last week that ‘we are and will remain reformers’ but promised that ‘we must further involve the French in the decision-making’.
In what he called ‘act two’ of Macron’s term, which runs until 2022, he set out economic reforms which aim to make France’s economy more competitive.
He said tax cuts will focus on middle-class workers, including 18 million French households who will see their annual incomes increase.
A reform of France’s generous unemployment benefits system will be presented next week – notably reducing benefits that wealthier workers are entitled to.
Moves to reform the pension system will keep the legal retirement age at 62 – but benefits for those who do so will decrease, to encourage people to work longer.