After recent spikes in gas taxes, the French have taken to the streets. A protest on Sunday in Paris resulted in considerable property damage, 133 injuries, and over 400 arrests. This was the result of “Les Gilets Jaunes” (The Yellow Vests) movement – anti-tax protestors upset that the new year will add another 12 cents to the gas tax.
Around 280,000 protested in the streets across the country that day, with 106,000 people attending rallies on Saturday, according to French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
A Hurried Shift in Approval
The movement is big, with 72% of French citizens polled supporting them, according to a Harris Interactive poll. This dwarfs Macron’s approval rating of 26%. These support demographics have changed greatly over the past year. In May of 2017, Macron won two-thirds of French votes in a run-off election against far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. In that race, he secured a majority in 94 out of 96 French Departments.
But in just 18 short months, everything has changed. Macron’s approval has dropped steadily, now nearing the levels of the previous president, widely unpopular François Hollande, who left office with 21% approval. Several factors play into this drastic decline.
Last summer, a crisis broke about Macron’s deputy chief of staff, Alexandre Benalla. According to a video from Le Monde, Benalla took a riot helmet, impersonated a police officer, and proceeded to beat up two May Day protestors. Even after the story went public, however, the man only received a two-week suspension. Macron later took responsibility for the incident and then fired Benalla on semi-related terms. But, the deed was done, and his favorability reacted accordingly.
Criticism Left and Right
Moreover, many French citizens are at odds with some of his economic policies. In September, the president told an unemployed man that he could easily get a job if he wanted. Not long after, many denounced his economic practices as only benefitting the rich. Also, he has received backlash from the left for plans to cut social spending.
On the other hand, the right has also given him considerable disapproval as well. In an article by The Guardian, several Gilets Jaunes spoke out about their protests. One stated that of €40,000 that an aunt had left behind after passing, the French state took 60% of it. Several others mentioned the steadily increasing gas tax as a means of harming the working class. One even went so far as to call his support for ecology “a pretext to make us pay more tax”.
The European Spring
Les Gilet Jaunes are leading the European Spring, some of the most widespread riots France has seen in years. After the first, many more followed, until protestors spanned the entire country. These protests together bear striking similarities to the Arab Spring of 2010. Both began in one, relatively small location, but spread internationally. The Arab Spring, over time, led to serious reforms among several Arab nations, including Egypt and Tunisia.
The European Spring, after small beginnings in Paris, has now expanded internationally. In just one short week, protests have erupted in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Italian border. Of course, this movement is still in its infancy, and thus, considerable change has not yet occurred. It also appears to be without a leader, which may make it more difficult for Les Gilets Jaunes to see their change come into action.
Many people have taken to Twitter to detail some of the events of the protests. Currently, reactions outside of France are limited, but a number of French citizens have nonetheless produced video evidence of mistreatment by police.
Some, including the self-proclaimed speaker of Les Gilets Jaunes, have even called for a declaration of martial law. However, the movement, as stated previously, is very decentralized. For this reason, it is impossible to determine whether this sentiment reflects the opinion of the movement as a whole. Regardless, it appears that the European Spring is full of bold protestors who are here to stay.
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