France: Can Macron de­feat the Yel­low Vests?

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The Yel­low Vest move­ment “has taken an in­sur­rec­tion­ist turn,” said Te­ in an ed­i­to­rial. What started last Novem­ber as a protest over tax hikes on diesel and gaso­line—with demon­stra­tors sport­ing the re­flec­tive vests that French driv­ers keep in their cars for emer­gen­cies—has be­come a re­jec­tion of Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s en­tire agenda. Macron, a po­lit­i­cal new­comer whose cen­trist For­ward move­ment up­ended decades of two-party rule, pushed through pro-busi­ness re­forms, only to find him­self deeply un­pop­u­lar. First, he ap­peased the Yel­low Vests by de­lay­ing the fuel tax rise, but when they kept protest­ing, he sicced the riot po­lice on them. That pro­voked last week’s shock­ing scenes of vi­o­lence across France, the worst of it in Paris, where demon­stra­tors com­man­deered a fork­lift truck and rammed a govern­ment build­ing, send­ing Macron’s spokesman flee­ing out the back. A for­mer pro boxer beat up two po­lice­men, a river­boat restau­rant on the Seine was set on fire, and the Musée d’Or­say had to close early. The pro­test­ers vow to keep go­ing ev­ery Saturday un­til Macron is gone.

These lead­er­less protests won’t end, be­cause they are all things to all peo­ple, said Thomas Le­grand in FranceIn­ The most vi­o­lent ag­i­ta­tors, of course, are sim­ply an­ar­chists. But many oth­ers are an­gry over Macron poli­cies they fear will push them into poverty, while some fume over what they see as the loss of their Gal­lic iden­tity. While only 50,000 peo­ple joined the protests last week, polls show that more than half the pop­u­la­tion sup­ports this amor­phous upris­ing. The best way to defuse the un­rest, then, is to “force the Yel­low Vests into co­her­ence,” so they tell us what, specif­i­cally, they want—be­sides Macron’s res­ig­na­tion, which is a non­starter. It’s time to make them “fi­nally do the ba­sic work: or­ga­nize, pri­or­i­tize their claims, and put them up for dis­cus­sion.”

Macron has a plan for that, said Alain Auf­fray and Lil­ian Ale­magna in Libéra­tion. He has an­nounced a “great de­bate” among the French. Start­ing next week and con­tin­u­ing un­til mid-March, town halls will be held across the coun­try, and an in­ter­net site will be launched where cit­i­zens can pro­pose re­forms. Al­ready, more than 3,000 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have col­lected pro­pos­als from their res­i­dents. We can ex­pect “in­nu­mer­able griev­ances” to be aired. The key ques­tions, though, are first, how will those many com­plaints be tal­lied, and what will be done with the re­sults? And sec­ond, will the Yel­low Vests even join in, or will they see any par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal process as sell­ing out?

Who cares what they want? said Sébastien Le Fol in Le Point. You can’t ne­go­ti­ate with peo­ple who refuse to talk—and the Yel­low Vests rain death threats down on any mem­ber of their co­hort who deigns to speak to the press. These peo­ple “want to sow chaos and over­throw the Repub­lic.” It’s time to “stop call­ing them pro­test­ers. They are riot­ers.” Macron’s de­bate can hap­pen only af­ter “the restora­tion of or­der.”

Po­lice try to block Yel­low Vests from cross­ing a Paris bridge.

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