France: Can Macron defeat the Yellow Vests?
The Yellow Vest movement “has taken an insurrectionist turn,” said Temoignages.re 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 FranceInter.fr. 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.