After the violent clashes of the last weekends, Emmanuel Macron’s announcements and the shooting in Strasbourg – what does the future of the Yellow Vest movement look like in the medium and long term? What are the political and economic options?
Who is currently the enemy of the French: Emmanuel Macron or Cherif Chekatt? Macron’s concessions, Strasbourg assassination? Will these events weaken the yellow vest movement? Many of us suspect that the Yellow Vest movement is in danger of scattering. Women, the elderly, peaceful demonstrators – after the sometimes very harsh violence suffered by some demonstrators and made visible by social networks – will be little inclined to jeopardise their physical integrity in the face of increasingly harsh, armoured and well-equipped security forces. Then, as the Christmas holidays approach, fathers and mothers will hesitate to let their children travel to Paris to demonstrate.
The expectations of most motivated, young, less anxious people, dedicated to opposition and activism, go far beyond the president’s concessions, which they call “peanuts”. But they too will hesitate to escalate the conflict – for lack of resources and in view of the mass arrests that took place before the 4th weekend on December 8th. The demonstrators from the regions, who are still prepared to occupy passages and roundabouts, also remain, because President Macron has by no means “found the way back into their hearts”, as his press spokesman had hoped. But even these demonstrators know that their activities, already demanding a lot from them, will only be met with repression, since the government has already agreed to everything it was prepared to accept. A more coordinated mobilization to paralyse the country’s economy is currently highly unlikely, as it would cost its initiators – at a time when the general movement is weakening – too much in economic and human terms. Effective joint action can only take place in a concerted lightning fast action, otherwise it will become too expensive in the long run.
The movement will undoubtedly continue to remain vivid in the social networks, as a permanent opposition. In this respect, Facebook is an opponent of the Elysée. The real sanction against Macron will take place at the ballot box: For the European elections in May 2019, Marine Le Pen leads the polls with 24% of the votes, ahead of LREM/Modem [centre-right] with 18%. But the real counter-reaction will be felt when the invoice for Macron’s announced measures is delivered to the French lower and middle classes, since Macron has not recognized the “social” nature of the difficulties and the necessary rebalancing and he has not prepared reserves at the expense of the richest for this account. This 10 billion Euro account will therefore inevitably reappear in the form of savings in social benefits and the purchasing power of the workers. It will soon be clear to the public that what was given with one hand will be taken away by the other under the pretext of the 3% Maastricht deficit rule. Then the anti-EU mood in France will reach its peak, transforming itself into an Italian-style scenario that could well lead to a victory for the “Rassemblement national” (party of Marine Le Pen).
In reality Marine Le Pen is by no means inevitable. At the moment she seems to be the only one who can benefit at the ballot box from the yellow vest movement, but that’s for lack of better things. Because it is said everywhere (whether by supporters or opponents of the Yellow Vests) that one has little idea who could take over the presidency after Macron. There would therefore be no valid substitute because the demands of the Yellow Vests were so different. “They have no programme”, they say.
That is completely wrong. The “programme” of the Yellow Vests is clear, the message is precise: the French want to possess purchasing power. In which language should this be expressed? A candidate would have every chance who would say today that he wants to support small and medium-sized French workers, giving them back their purchasing power and quality of life, protecting them from excessive immigration and social and economic dumping and that he is willing to save wherever there is waste (excessive state centralism, military spending abroad). But would the electoral process allow this? This depends on the extent to which France has transformed itself into an oligarchic-plutocratic system. In 2008, the US republican political scientist Francis Fukuyama showed that the USA had transformed themselves into such a system.
This trend also awaits the old Western democracies: the inequality of riches is at its highest level since the beginning of the last century. And since the 1980s, public assets have been massively transferred into the private sphere, mainly through privatizations. States are becoming poorer and they have no longer sufficient resources to protect citizens at the lower end of the scale. While France’s national wealth has increased considerably, public wealth has fallen sharply and is reflected in a record debt [2018: 2,300 billion euros, editor’s note]. In concrete terms a plutocratic system means that the financial elite governs the country and that the preferences of the richest – whether in domestic or foreign policy or with regard to an elected presidential candidate – clearly predominate. In this system, political decisions are indeed a question of financial and personnel support. In France, would a candidate – who, unlike Emmanuel Macron, does not receive 14 million euros from investors and bankers and could therefore benefit from little personal and financial support from the richest – also have a chance today? •
(Translation: Current Concerns)
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