Macron vs the ‘yellow vests’: French president faces new protest movement from motorists

The 'yellow vests' - a growing social movement in France is planning to block French roads and bring traffic to a standstill in protest over the rising cost of diesel and petrol. But the president insists fuel taxes must rise.

Macron vs the 'yellow vests': French president faces new protest movement from motorists
A motorist displays a fluorescent yellow vest in the boot of her car to show her anger against rising fuel prices. Photo: AFP

Remember the “bonnets rouges” (red hats) whose protests forced the French government to drop its controversial eco-tax plan in 2014?

Well, the latest protest movement among motorists in France has been dubbed the 'yellow vests' (gilets jaunes) and they are hoping to force the government into a similar climbdown.

While the bonnets rouges movement was mainly centred in Brittany, western France, the gilets jaunes are threatening to block roads across France on November 17th to protest against the government's plan to hike taxes on petrol and diesel.

France suspends planned 'ecotax' on transport

Drivers in France have taken to displaying the yellow vests on the dashboard or rear of their vehicles to show they are backing the protest against the government.

Several go-slow operations were held by motorists in parts of France at the weekend in preparation for the nationwide protest on November 17th.

The movement which first developed on social media has grown out of anger at the price of diesel and petrol which have risen in the last year by 23 percent and 15 percent respectively. 

READ ALSO: Furious French drivers to block roads but are they right to?

However the price rises are largely due to the rising costs of a barrel of fuel rather than the government's tax increases, which are motivated by the so-called transition ecologique ('ecological transition') which aims to reduce pollution by encouraging the French to buy more environmentally friendly cars.

And on Monday Macron and his government remained unmoved by the unpredictable threat of the spontaneous protest movement.

In an interview published in the French press on Monday, Macron said he understood the anger of motorists but stood by the government's plan to hike fuel taxes further in January, part of the government's aim to bring taxes on diesel to the same level as petrol.

“I fully back the plan to bring the level of taxation on diesel up to a level with petrol. I prefer to tax fuel to than to tax workers,” said Macron.

“The same people who moan about the rising fuel costs also fight against air pollution because their children suffer from diseases,” said the president, who stressed that the rise in the price of fuel at the pump was largely due to increases in the price of petrol. 

“That's the reality,” he said.

“For decades we told people to buy diesel cars but now it's the opposite. It's normal that this is hard to understand,” said Macron.

For his part the Economy Minister Bruno Lemaire insisted that the planned hike in fuel taxes in January will not be scrapped to appease protesters.

As part of the government's 2019 budget diesel taxes will rise by 6.5 cents per litre next year, while petrol taxes will rise by 2.9 cents.

“It won't be suspended. We will not stop the ecological transition, which is necessary,” said Lemaire.

“The best solution is not to go backwards.We cannot give up our objective for cleaner transport.”

The “yellow vests” might have something to say about that.

As prices soar here's where to find the cheapest petrol in France

As prices soar here's where to find the cheapest fuel in France


Member comments

  1. I’ll never let go of my BMW 320 d or my Porsche GT4. Diesel hysteria is overblown and as usual the pols jump on the bandwagon. BTW, check out Macron’s garage of expensive polluting vehicles. Nothing like hypocrisy but not unique to French pols.

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The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

From petrol discounts and motorway tolls to low-emission zones and help to buy a greener car, here’s what’s changing for motorists in France in the next 12 months.

The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

Petrol prices 

The French government’s €0.10 per litre discount on petrol and diesel ends on January 1st, and TotalEnergies’ discount-match at its fuel stations also finishes.

Motorists may be able to look forward to some help from the supermarket chain E.Leclerc, which also owns several petrol stations across France, after the head of the chain E.Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, told BFM Politique on December 18th that the company would “make a gesture” to help motorists in France with rising fuel prices, but he did not provide any further details.

But the blanket discount will be replaced by targeted assistance for households on lower incomes who rely on their vehicles for work, with about 10 million workers expected to receive a one-off payment of €100.

To apply for the aid, you will need to register your details on the tax website. 

READ ALSO Who will get France’s €100 fuel hand-out and how?


The French government has unveiled a plan to encourage carpooling on Tuesday, offering drivers who register on carpooling platforms a benefit of €100.

Drivers will be able to register starting on January 1st, and the payment of €100 will be done in instalments – with a lump sum of “at least” €25 upon registration and then the remaining amount distributed over the course of 10 carpool journeys.

“Carpooling is a very effective lever for reducing our country’s fuel consumption in a sustainable way. It is good for the climate and good for the purchasing power of the French,” French environment minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Huffpost.

READ ALSO French government announces €100 payment for those joining carpooling platforms

Motorway tolls

From February, motorway toll fees will rise by an average of 4.75 percent, after rising 2 percent in 2022.

The Transport Ministry pointed out that the 4.75 percent toll increase – announced in October – is “markedly lower” than France’s inflation rate of 6.33 percent. 

On some networks, electric vehicles will benefit from a five percent discount, while regular users – who make a minimum of 10 return journeys a month on the same route – may be eligible for a discount of 40 percent, up from the current 30 percent. Check with the motorway operator for details.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

Breakdown fees

No one wants to break down on the motorway, but if you do, you probably want to know how much getting your vehicle fixed will cost. The annual government-set charges are clear.

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee was to rise €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

READ ALSO French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Extra help to buy electric vehicles

French president Emmanuel Macron announced in October an increase in the financial aid available for anyone who trades in a combustion engine car for an electric one from January 2023.

In a partial reversal on previous plans, under which the ecological bonus for trading in an older car for an electric model was set to fall, Macron said: “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone, we are going to increase the ecological bonus from €6,000 to €7,000 for half of [France’s] households.” 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: The financial aid available to buy an electric car in France

Electric car charge points

Since October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Anyone who ignores the rule risks a fine of €58.

Crit’Air sticker extension and more fines for polluting vehicles

France’s environment minister announced in October a major extension of the city low-emission zones controlled by Crit’Air stickers, plus an increase in fines up to a maximum of €750. 

Between 2023 and 2025, 43 more French cities will create low-emission zones, on top of the 11 that already have them.

READ MORE: Crit’Air: Drivers face €750 fines in France’s new low-emission zones

The Crit’Air system requires all motorists – including the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles – going to any of the low-emission zones to get a sticker for their vehicle. The sticker assigns the vehicle a number from 0 (all electric vehicles) to 5 (the most polluting).

Some low emission zones will begin gradually banning more polluting cars. Paris, for instance, intends to ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles in July 2023, a move held back from July 2022.

READ ALSO Driving in France: How the Crit’Air vehicle sticker system works

Winter tyres

France introduced a law, the Loi Montage II (mountain law II), in 2020 making winter tyres, chains or socks compulsory in certain areas, which will finally come into effect in 2023.

The law makes either snow tyres, all-weather tyres or chains compulsory in 48 of France’s 96 mainland départements – generally those areas which are mountainous, with local authorities in those départements responsible for deciding where such rules will be applied.

READ ALSO Winter tyres and snow chains: What are the rules in France?


Drivers in France may not have to worry about the little green stickers that they attach to their windscreen (windshield) soon, after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced plans to scrap them in favour of a digitalised system set to start in 2023.

The goal, according to the finance minister, is to simplify the process for drivers and reduce costs.

French car insurers, like France Assureurs, have been pushing for the piece of paper to be scrapped for some time.

READ ALSO France announces plan to scrap vehicle insurance windscreen stickers

Roadworthiness test for motorcycles

After some back and forth, the French council of the state decided in October that motorcycles (two-wheeled vehicles) would also need to comply with “roadworthiness” testing starting January 1st, 2023. This is part of a decree passed by the French government in August 2021, and it specifically concerns two-wheeled vehicles registered to dates prior to 2016. The council of the state specified that the vehicles concerned are “motor vehicles with two, three or four wheels with a cylinder capacity of more than 125 cm3.” As of December 2022, the details regarding how this plan will be implemented were not yet available, so it is possible enforcement measures will be staggered, according to reporting by Auto-Moto.