Back to top

Yellow fever takes Europe: the Gilet Jaunes

In December, the Gilets jaunes (Yellow Vests movement) – a mass countrywide protest movement that shook France (1st quartile) and quickly brought about economic concessions from President Emmanuel Macron – arrived on the streets. While the movement began as a protest against a new eco-tax on diesel, it became a broader demonstration of anger over a wide range of issues, including social inequality, the minimum wage, homelessness, unemployment, and closure of public services. The demands and politics of protesters varied, but demonstrations were characterised by frustration with the status quo and criticism of the political establishment, particularly President Macron.

The overwhelming majority of demonstrators were peaceful, but violent clashes between police and protesters in Paris captured international attention. French riot police employed chemical sprays, tear gas grenades, and rubber bullets against the mainly peaceful protesters. More than a thousand demonstrators were wounded, around 50 seriously, and thousands were arrested.[1] Journalists covering the protest were also injured, including a photographer, whose hand was broken by a police baton, and two journalists who were hit by ‘flash-balls’ that police officers fired.[2] The French riot police’s use of ‘flash-balls’, which shoot large (40mm) rubber or foam pellets at 100 metres per second, caused controversy after a number of serious injuries were reported.[3]

The yellow vest has now been adopted by protesters in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Bulgaria, the UK, and Ireland. In Germany, some far-right and -left groups have begun wearing the vest at demonstrations.[4]


[1] Human Rights Watch, France: Police Crowd Control Methods Maim People, 14 December 2018, available at

[2] Mapping Media Freedom, France: Journalists Assaulted by Police During Gilets Jaunes Protests, November 2018, available at

[3] BBC News, ‘Gilets Jaunes: French ‘flash-ball’ row over riot-gun injuries’, 18 January 2019, available at

[4] Jon Henley, ‘How hi-vis yellow vest became symbol of protest beyond France’, The Guardian, 21 Decemer 2018, available at