Abstract: In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron was elected into office after he ran on a platform of ‘radical centrism’, which sought to jump-start the French economy and prevent the politicization of issues. Last year, Emmanuel Macron experienced thousands of violent street protests against his government policies. It would appear that President Macron has lost the support of many of the people of France, but can he turn this around?
Since late October 2018, France has been embroiled in fierce protests against President Macron and the various policies he sought to introduce. One such policy that drove people to protest was the country’s proposed fuel tax hike, which would have raised the cost of gasoline over $0.12 USD per litre, and raised the cost of diesel over $0.24 USD per litre. The fuel tax would have also had cascading effects throughout the country’s economic markets since the cost of other services and commodities, such as hydro and electric power, grocery, retail merchandise and the overall cost of living would also increase. While fuel taxes were originally the reason for mass demonstrations, the gilet jaunes protests have since spiraled into an anti-government and anti-E.U. movement.
Between Dec. 8th and 9th, 2018, over 136,000 people took to the streets of Paris and other major French cities, such as Toulouse, Lyons, and Marseilles to participate in anti-government demonstrations. Those on the streets can be identified by their yellow vests, due to which protestors came to be known as the ‘yellow vest protestors,’ or the ‘gilets jaunes.’ Those taking part in the demonstrations come from all walks of life, including high school students and government employees. According to one poll, the public has expressed overwhelming support for the gilets jaunes, as 70 – 80 percent of respondents stated that they supported the demonstrations. Meanwhile, support for French President Emmanuel Macron plunged to a record low of 23 percent last December.
As a result of the protests in major metropolitan cities such as Paris, the French government took steps to quell the demonstrations and prevent injuries and damage to property. On December 8th, 2018, the French government deployed nearly 90 000 security forces throughout France, with 8000 in Paris alone. The demonstrations have also forced the government to close tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, opera houses, and shops along the Champs Elysees. There have also been armoured vehicles deployed in Paris, and tear gas and rubber bullets have also been used against protesters. The gilets jaunes have already faced consequences, with nearly 1000 protestors taken into custody throughout France. Over 100 people have been injured in the rioting so far, including 17 police officers and at least two deaths.
The gilet jaunes protests have been noticed by other neighbouring European countries. On the weekend of December 8th, 2018, protests spilled into the Netherlands and Belgium, with instances of violence among demonstrators, and some protestors calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel.
In light of the protests across the country, France has pulled the fuel tax. This however, may not be enough to placate the gilets jaunes. Although they began as a push-back from groups of working class individuals rebelling against the fuel taxes, the gilets jaunes protests have morphed into anti-governmental and Eurosceptic movements.
Macron has even called back France’s ambassador to Italy over a meeting that occurred between gilet jaunes activists and Italy’s interior minister Mateo Salvini, a member of the Italian populist Party, Lega Nord. French President Macron’s approval ratings have increased following the decision to not introduce fuel taxes, however this may not be enough to quell the anti-government resentments sweeping the nation.
Although support for Emmanuel Macron has improved in the past weeks, Macron’s approval ratings dipped below those of Eurosceptic and populist leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, who was defeated in the 2017 French general elections, indicating a worrying trend. While Macron may continue to govern the country as an unpopular leader, it is expected that the French people will support populist and Eurosceptic parties during the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections. If he is to continue on successfully, Macron will have to re-strategize to make up for the gains made by populist leaders.
Featured photo: Yellow vest event revolution protest (2018). By: Ella87 via Pixbay. CC 2.0
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.