In the past few days France has experienced political and social turmoil unlike anything seen in recent years. This turmoil, spearheaded by the ‘Yellow Vest Protestors’ (named after the yellow jackets they wear), began a few weeks’ prior when rising gas taxes caused the price of fuel to increase by a significant amount. Tensions had already been building for a few weeks but boiled over on Saturday when huge protests began in Paris.
The police and riot squads were sent out in large numbers to disperse the protestors leaving 3 dead, 260 wounded and around 400 people arrested. Despite the dead and large number of people arrested and wounded the ‘Yellow Vest Protestors’ don’t appear to be going anywhere.
The protest itself can’t be attributed in its entirety to rising gas prices, that’s a far too simplistic view of the current situation in France. The rising gas prices should be seen more as the ‘Stick that broke the Camel’s back’. There a numerous issues plaguing many French citizens including high living costs, a lack of jobs, low wages and others that have been causing tensions to rise and Macron’s popularity to decline to a mere 29%.
According to many French citizens, the French Presidents disconnect with the working class and the struggles of many French citizens is a significant factor in his declining popularity and the protests themselves. On November the 27th, a spokesman for the French centre-right party, The Republicans, stated “The French say, ‘Mr. President we cannot make ends meet,’ and the President replies, ‘We shall create a High Council [for the climate]’. Can you imagine the disconnect?”. The creation of a High Council and other policies aimed at addressing climate change and improving cooperation between countries on climate change despite being well intended do not help the millions of French citizens struggling on a day to day basis.
Macron has said that the reason why he’s increased the price of fuel is environmental, basically to incentivise other forms of transport instead of cars. Again, despite being well intended, this type of policy only highlights the fact that Macron is increasingly appealing to French elites in Paris that won’t be affected by this policy and essentially ignoring the woes and complaints of the average French citizen.
Unemployment in France is at 9.1%, the number of people living in Poverty is 14.2% and economic growth is at a mere 0.4%. With these numbers in mind it becomes quite obvious as to why so many of Macrons supporters have left when little is being done to address these issues.
In response to the protests Macron called an emergency meeting with the Minister of the Interior and high-end security officials. And a spokesperson for the government has stated that a state of emergency being declared is an option being considered by the French President. The future of France is not clear, but what is clear is that Macrons popularity will continue to decline should nothing be done to address the complaints of the ‘Yellow Vest Protestors’.
Other issues that may not be at the forefront of the protestors demands but are going to play a larger role in upcoming elections and potentially fuel more protests include a rise in violent crime especially rapes and violent assaults, a rise in the commonality of No-go zones and a rise in the frequency and violence of riots across the country. Increases in any of the things listed above indicate that the government’s ability to control and secure the country is waning.
The French President has said he will not back down in the face of protests, violent or not. With this in mind, the future of France, specifically in the next few weeks, looks to be potentially even more violent than the last few days. A change of government is possible although unlikely with Macron potentially being forced into a stalemate that sees him pushed to implement serious political and social policy changes or changes that simply keep the masses happy and disperse the protests for the time-being. Either way, the future of France looks to be tumultuous at best.