PARIS — France faces a fresh round of protests during the last weekend of the year, as retailers continue to take stock of business lost from the disruption during the crucial holiday season.
The U.S. embassy in Paris on Friday issued an alert, noting that protests are expected across the country, including in the capital, on Saturday, and may impact New Year’s Eve celebrations on Dec. 31.
The so-called yellow vest protests, which have been taking place on Saturdays since November, retreated considerably over the last two weekends with fewer people taking to the streets. Last Saturday, flare-ups of violence prompted calls for peace and order from the country’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Sparked by anger over an increase in fuel tax, the protests by demonstrators wearing yellow safety vests spread into an expression of broader discontent over declining living standards, taking a violent turn that caught the country and its government by surprise.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government responded by scrapping the increase and promoting measures to improve purchasing power, including one-off end-of-year bonuses for workers and allowing more stores to remain open on Sundays before the holidays.
Last weekend, the country’s shopping centers saw a 6 percent increase in traffic in the run-up to Christmas, following over a month of disruption from the protests.
“After five weekends marked by a strong decline, it’s good news even if this last-minute improvement isn’t enough to recover sales that would have taken place without the yellow vest crisis,” said Gontran Thüring of the Conseil National des Centres Commerciaux, an association of French shopping centers.
“One has to hope that measures in favor of purchasing power will improve household spending, notably during the upcoming winter sales period,” he added.
The association had called for moving the country’s sales period, which is set by the government, to Dec. 26, well ahead of Jan. 9, the official start of the sales period, and in line with some other countries in Europe.
But the French government said Friday that after consultation with retail groups, it has decided to stick with the Jan. 9 kickoff.
“A majority of retail associations don’t want to move the winter sales period forward,” said Agnès Pannier-Runacher, secretary of state to the French Economy and Finance Ministry. Pannier-Runacher noted retailers have already prepared for several weeks for a Jan. 9 start to the sales.