A Recap of Macron’s Gilets Jaunes’ Civil War
With the festive period now drawn to a close and seasonal reminders of peace and goodwill a fond memory, it is easy to forget that in France, civil strife still rages with the ongoing protest of the gilets jaunes. So named for the high-vis yellow vests (‘gilets jaunes’) which all French motorists must keep in their vehicles, those protesting projected price hikes of fuel have continued to battle against what they perceive to be the inequities of Macron’s government.
Indeed, the protests, which sparked to life on the 17th November over fuel taxes, remain a huge part of life in not only Paris but much of wider France. On December 29th, the demonstrations of the gilets jaunes entered what has been nicknamed ‘Act VII’ or ‘Round Seven’ – as the latest iteration of conflict is the seventh since the movement began. ‘Act VII’ confirmed the rising tensions in the capital, with Parisian police once again firing tear gas at the protesters after the latter reportedly threw ‘projectiles’.
This is not the first time in the conflict that French forces have responded in kind to violence; with tear gas and water cannons deployed against civilians after the immense destruction on the Champs-Elysees in late November. The scale of the protests has been compared to the notorious Paris riots of May 1968, the volatile period of protest, strikes and civil unrest which almost brought France’s economy to a standstill.
A key difference between the two conflicts, however, is the political leanings of the protesters, which in 1968 comprised of intensely left-wing groups, anti-capitalist and socialist movements. Today, there is an increasing awareness that amongst the gilets jaunes, a more right-wing sentiment is spreading. Certainly, it isn’t difficult to see how a movement characterised by violent and anti-establishment demonstrations has legitimised the sentiments of right-wing followers endorsing the Front National and Marine Le Pen, uniting as a voice against centrist president Emmanuel Macron.
Once hailed as a new dawn for French politics, both Macron’s centrist policies and his new reputation as ‘president of the rich’ have incited much of the gilet jaunes’ anger in recent weeks, just eighteen months into his term. Indeed, the tax spike which prompted the protests has been interpreted by many as another way in which the former investment banker has attempted to diminish the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes.
This view of Macron’s policies may be one factor behind his declining popularity: from an approval rating of 52% just twelve months ago, Macron’s popularity almost halved to a record low of 25% approval in November. Certainly, a popular rallying cry of the protesters on December 29th in Marseille, Paris, and Bregancon on the Riviera coast simply echoed the words ‘Macron out!’ across France, leaving onlookers in little doubt as to the marchers’ sentiments.
The besieged French president, in response, held crisis talks and reportedly even sought the help of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy: Le Figaro reported that the pair met on the 7th December to discuss the ongoing protests. However, even the government’s announcement of a six-month suspension of the vilified tax increase has done little to assuage the disillusioned public, who referred to the conciliatory measures as ‘too little, too late’: one founding figure of the movement, Benjamin Cauchy, reportedly compared the concession to ‘crumbs’ rather than ‘the whole baguette’.
In his first address to the public since protests began, Macron additionally promised an increase of €100 a month in France’s minimum wage, as well as a January abolishment of taxes on overtime pay, but ignored calls to reinstate the wealth tax on civilians with over £1.1m worth of assets. Standing by taxation policies which are widely considered to support the wealthy has been seen by many as a bold statement in the face of a free-falling approval rating and ongoing chaos across the nation.
Certainly, the rampant destruction in the streets of multiple French cities (as well as the diverse demographic of his assailants) ought to offer President Macron a clue that the movement no longer revolves around a single issue of taxation. Indeed, if he is to appease the masses calling for his immediate resignation, true engagement with those who feel neglected or targeted by his politics – such as the low-income provincial workers who represent many of the protesters – may be a faster route to civil stability than offering mere ‘crumbs’ to appease his public’s appetite for change.
Global Seven News
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