Since November 17, a grassroots movement branded ‘Yellow Vests’ or ‘Gilets Jaunes’ has caused widespread disruption across France, with protesters blocking highways, bridges, border crossings and some industrial sites. The protests have been organized to demonstrate against rising fuel prices and a newly installed tax on fuel. Over the weekend, more than 238,000 protesters gathered across the country. Disruptions have occurred at more than 2,000 locations, with one casualty and hundreds of injuries having been reported. The movement has been driven mainly by taxi drivers, private chauffeurs, delivery workers, ambulance drivers and truck drivers; a major truck drivers’ union has distanced itself from the protests.
Key highways blocked across France
As of this writing on November 19, about 13,000 protesters continued to demonstrate across 358 locations in the country. Since the early hours of the morning, blockades were ongoing on key highways linking large urban centers, including on the A6 highway near Lyon; the A7 near Avignon; the A8 near Aix-en-Provence; the A9 near Rivesaltes; the A10 and A63 near Bordeaux; the A23 near Lesquin; the A36 near Mulhouse-Belfort; A51 near Sisteron; the A64 near Lannemezan and on the A75 near Millau. Further disruption was reported on the A1, A26, A29 and A83 highways where entry and exit ramps have been blocked, causing long lines of vehicles and trucks both on and off the highways.
Container traffic at ports, borders impacted
Blocked roads have also been reported on key access routes to France’s most important container ports and to neighboring Belgium. Cross border movements between France and Belgium were largely impacted by protests that took place on the A16 and A2 highways, as demonstrators only allowed certain vehicles to pass through the blockades. Near the border, traffic was also disrupted on the A16 highway in Calais, which connects to the Port of Calais via the A216 highway. Further to the west, road and container traffic on the Pont de Tancarville and the Pont de Normandie, two key linkages between the Port of Le Havre and the Greater Paris area, was significantly slowed down due to road blocks. Furthermore, protesters also prevented trucks from entering the TOTAL refinery in the industrial area of the port, effectively halting container movements for logistics and trucking companies near the refinery. In the south, blockages caused delays on the national route N568, a key entrance route into the Port of Marseille-Fos-sur-Mer, southern France’s largest container port.
The movement started out as a grassroots initiative organized through social media and lacked any central organization. While the main purpose was to roll back the fuel taxes, participants expressed discontent over a number of political issues, indicating that more people could join the protests. With 78 per cent of public opinion supporting the protests, according to one poll, demonstrators reportedly plan to sustain their actions throughout this week until the government drops the taxes. Some local organizers also called for a blockade of highways in and out of Paris on Saturday, November 24, where thousands of people are expected to rally from 08:00 local time at Place de la Concorde. If labor unions were to join the protests, these would likely gain further momentum and could cause significant disruption to transportation services and industrial production across France.