Macron's 'Hard Ball Play' Failed, Provoked Backlash From Protesters – Scholar

Masked protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher fuel prices, take part in a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, November 24, 2018

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REUTERS / Benoit Tessier

8000 extra police are to be deployed to the streets of Paris this weekend, as part of 89,000 gendarmes deployed nationwide in anticipation of further protests by the Yellow Vests movement. This is despite a government U-turn on its plans to scrap a proposed rise in fuel tax along with a gas price hike.

The Yellow Vests movement now goes beyond protesting the fuel tax rise and is uniting people from all walks of life against the President Emmanuel Macron, who they consider to be out of touch with the average French worker. His package of reforms which he has pushed through the Senate since he came to power have hit the vulnerable in French society the most, and as he sought to boost businesses and the economy.

According to a poll for French broadcaster RFL, 72 percent of people support the Yellow Vests, even after the recent widespread violence. Sputnik spoke to Dr Paul Smith from the University of Nottingham to get his take on the events.

Sputnik: Do you think public support for the Yellow Vests movement will continue?

Dr Paul Smith: I think it very much depends on the form the protests take.

We’ve seen a softening of the line over the week particularly after Wednesday night — and I’ll come back to that in a moment — there seemed to be on Monday and Tuesday, the political parties, the trade unions were not offering the government any kind of support but then on Wednesday evening there was a television debate; a couple of Macron’s ministers met with the representatives of the Yellow Vests movement and some of the things the Yellow Vests people said didn’t go down particularly well with the general public, certainly not with the political parties. It certainly seemed that there was a lot more violence in the air than some people wanted.

Yesterday there was a softening of the line from political parties calling for moderation and by all means let’s avoid the violence of last Saturday.

Protesters build a barricade during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris

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AFP 2018 / Abdulmonam Eassa

Sputnik: How do you think the government is going to play this? Macron has previously said there was no chance of him backing down; some would argue that this approach, in terms of how he pushed through the labor reforms was quite heavy-handed. How do you think it’s going to play out?

Dr Paul Smith: Well I think he is playing the sort of game that previous presidents have played; which is that you want until the movement runs out of steam. He played that game last year with the labor law reforms and he played that game with the trade unions; and of course everybody thought on the government side that they’d done terribly well and they were quite smug about it.

The problem with that is this time round people have taken things into their own hands because they don’t feel that the unions are capable of addressing their concerns or standing up to the government. But also the unions themselves have taken one look at this movement and thought ‘hang on, can we get involved, is there anything we can do here?’

But to go back to your original question, the initial way of playing it, playing hard ball, clearly didn’t work. Whereas it might work with the trade unions over specific issues, oddly enough over these issues it’s provoked a much broader backlash because of course the Yellow Vests started out as a complaint over carbon tax but then becomes something of a catch-all movement, which in many ways the trade unions failed to do last year.

Sputnik: It’s clear now that this issue goes beyond the fuel tax rise — the protestors obviously have a problem with Macron’s leadership itself. Are Macron’s days numbered, or will he weather the storm?

Protesters build a barricade during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018 in Paris
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AFP 2018 / Abdulmonam EassaFrench Extremists Destabilizing ‘Yellow Vests’ to Prolong Chaos – ActivistDr Paul Smith:
Well it’s difficult to see how they would overthrow him, short of getting into the Elysee palace and physically overrthrowing him — which some have suggested. But you can’t bring a president down just like that.

He has a majority in the National Assembly. He might not be very popular but…What could one imagine? Could one imagine this being a weekly protest outside the Elysee Palace or down the Champs-Elysee every Saturday? It’s not completely impossible but this is not a situation where he doesn’t have the support of the army or the police.

The police and the army in France essentially do what they are told to do. So the key institutions are not…He has a majority in the National Assembly, he’s not going to dissolve the National Assembly, none of the political parties are seriously in a position to…So what would happen if he resigned?

There would be a fresh election but do the other parties, are they prepared to…you see none of them are really coming to the fore in this. Melanchon’s La France Insoumise are kind of getting involved as they like some of the left-wing arguments in there, but not everything to do with the GiletsJaunes is a left-wing programme, one would normally associate it with the far right, but the problem for Le Pen and the far right is that they have quite a lot of support with the far right and it’s them that are getting bricks thrown at them.

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Paul Smith and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.