Yellow vest protestors demonstrate with placards reading 'RIC' for "Citizens' Initiative Referendum" in Perpignan. Photo: AFP
The demands of the “yellow vest” protesters have been evolving and growing since the the movement first took hold in France in November.
After the catalyst that sparked the “yellow vest” protests — the ecological tax on fuel — the group's demands have certainly been nebulous although generally linked by the idea of promoting social justice, such as improving spending power for the ordinary, working French person.
Initial “yellow vest” demands also ranged from the re-introduction of France's wealth tax (ISF) on the country's most wealthy to insisting the democratically elected president must resign – a demand that is still heard during each protest.
A recent online consultation suggests the demands may have radicalised along with the movement itself, which has lost some of its original leaders, who have quit to set up their own political groups.
More than 9,000 contributions were submitted to the consultation set up by France's Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) between December 15th and January 4th in response to the country's “yellow vest” protests.
The contributions were voted on over the course of the three weeks, receiving a total of 260,879 votes — and the results were somewhat surprising.
The most popular contribution of the consultation by far was the proposal to abolish gay marriage or the “repeal of the Taubira law”, with nearly 5,897 votes in favour.
This was followed by a somewhat vague demand for “a real policy for families — global and ambitious”, which received 4,611 votes.
However in general the contributions that attracted the most votes were ones that were line with traditional rightwing views.
For example, the call for a referendum on extending “medically assisted procreation” (known as “PMA” in France) to lesbian couples and single women received 3,021 votes and an end to wind energy subsidies received 2,930.
A victim's right to appeal for a second criminal trial received 2,845.
Other popular contributions included a return to universal family allowances rather than means-tested ones (2,827 votes) and the universal abolition of surrogacy (known as GPA in France), which received 1,917 votes.
It's important to note that the consultation was not only open to “yellow vests” but to the public in general, which may explain why these demands do not seem entirely consistent with those previously been made by the gilets jaunes.
To explain the surprising results, French journalist Vincent Glad suggested that the online consultation may have been snubbed by “yellow vest” protesters who don't believe in it because they don't think that the government plans to take the results seriously, arguing that he believes it was hijacked by far-right campaigners, such as anti-gay marriage group La Manif pour Tous (Demo for All).
While it's hard to pin the results of the online consultation on the 'yellow vests' it shows the problem the government has in trying to understand the movement it is facing.
Government figures have dismissed those still protesting as “insurrectionists” whose only aim is to overthrow the government.
One demand that has regularly appeared in recent weeks is for the government to hold citizens' initiative referendums, which would either be used to propose new laws, scrap current ones or even change the constitution.
Some ministers have half-heartedly backed the idea and some opinion polls suggest the French are vastly in favour of the initiative, with support for the move the strongest above far-right voters.
Le Grand debat
It might come as no surprise that these subjects will not be up for debate in the upcoming Grand Debat, which was announced by Macron in response to the “yellow vest” protests.
This consultation will see the president meet with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the “yellow vests” however government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux confirmed on Tuesday that topics such as gay marriage, the death penalty and abortion would not be up for discussion.
“We will not um and ah on values,” Griveaux told BFMTV, adding that the right to abortion, the death penalty nor gay marriage would “be on the table during the national debate.
The minister said that this consultation would focus on “the four themes that have been identified” namely the ecological transition, the organization of public services, taxation and democratic issues.
This debate “will lead to concrete achievements by mid-April,” said Griveaux.