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French Yellow Vests protests have been an 'earthquake' for some businesses

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A fire in a street of Toulouse during a Yellow Vest protest in April 2019 Pascal Pavani/AFP

The Yellow Vest protest movement has had a relatively moderate impact on the French economy as a whole, according to a parliamentary report, though some businesses and sectors suffered considerable - even permanent – damage.


The economic affairs commission of the National Assembly was tasked with calculating the direct and indirect economic impacts of the weekly Saturday protests that started in November against the implementation of a tax on petrol, and which turned into a more general anti-government movement.

The report concluded that the “total macroeconomic cost” of the violence around the protests was 0.1 per cent of GDP in the last trimester of 2018, a number that is relatively low. However, it added that the impact on individual cities and businesses has been extensive.

"The cost of the crisis are considerable, even permanent, when it comes to certain businesses or certain cities,” says the report, adding that many small businesses, already facing economic problems, will be unable to recover.

Small businesses most affected

One of the two lawmakers in charge of the report, Roland Lescure, of the ruling LaRem party, called the protests an “earthquake” for certain businesses and cities, already struggling economically.

"Who suffered? It’s not the big international companies,” said the other reporter, Jean-Rene Cazeneuve, also of LaRem, during a press conference Wednesday. “It’s really the weakest, most fragile city centres that were the most impacted.”

An ironic conclusion, given that the protest movement was born of the grievances of the more economically weakened parts of the country.

Exact numbers

The drop in visitors to city centres on Saturdays has cost some businesses 20 to 30 per cent of their turnover, and shopping centres suffered losses “on the order of two billion euros”, according to the report. This includes some 850 million euros in lost revenue for cafes, hotels and restaurants.

Damage to public property cost cities 30 million euros, and the report pointed to other costs like police overtime, or the 3,000 radars damaged since the start of the movement which “could ultimately cost 71 million euros” to fix or replace.

The commission had six proposals coming out of the report, including extending the government’s special measures for businesses most affected and continuing revitalisation efforts for the most affected city centres.