By Khalid Hussain
More than 500 people have been taken into custody in Paris. The French capital was the scene of clashes including the area of the Champs Elysees with broken windows, shops or cafes looted, cars or scooters broken or burned on Saturday.
It makes me wonder how President Emanual Macron is feeling about the European Spring that has blossomed in his own beloved France? Does a taunting Donald Trump make it worse for him by making him wonder whether or not the Americans had a hand like they did in the Arab Spring? Remember that ominous flowering of hell from Egypt to Syria and a lot many others in between? Is Europe headed where the Egyptians, Arabs and Syrians have been forced to go?
The Gilets Jaunes take their name from the high-visibility jackets that drivers in France must wear if they step outside the car on the roadside. Demonstrations began last month over a proposed environmental fuel tax inspired by the Paris climate accords of 2015 wherein France promised to cut its carbon emissions by 75 per cent. Media mainstream has chosen to look at these protests as a symptom of a wider resistance to the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. But then it is understandable for to look at causes beyond the narrow political angle would have to acknowledge issues that are not so specific to the French President himself who is a former banker claiming to run a centre-left government.
Whether or not he has anything to do with it, Trump, of course, is obviously delighted. He taunted Macron with a typical Trump tweet from the White House on Saturday: ““The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France”.
There is no leader or single clear aim of this street movement that has already spread to Belgium and the Netherlands. The groups involved have demanded lowering of the new fuel taxes and safeguarding famed French social protections. Some are also calling for Macron to resign though none wants Trump. The American President’s proclamation that his name was ringing out from Bordeaux to Strasbourg appears to be based on a single, old, mistitled video that was actually filmed at a rally in June in support of British nationalist Tommy Robinson but spread as a meme on conservative Twitter over the past few days.
Hundreds were arrested across France where police said 31,000 people were out on the streets as organizers claimed way higher numbers. Most disturbances have been in Paris where tear gas and water cannon were freely used to disperse the crowds. French authorities claim they were armed, professional provocateurs who travelled from across the continent.
Making it clear that the spat between America and the European Union was a real conflict, Trump sent another message as the day of news wrapped up. He called it a “very sad day & night in Paris” and proposed one more time to abolish the “ridiculous and extremely expensive” Paris agreement. Earlier in the day, Trump also returned to one his cherished subjects, with yet another reminder of France’s unwillingness to contribute sufficiently to NATO, spiced up by a dig at the country’s military prowess. “The idea of a European Military didn’t work out too well in W.W. I or 2. But the U.S. was there for you, and always will be. All we ask is that you pay your fair share of NATO. Germany is paying 1% while the U.S. pays 4.3% of a much larger GDP–to protect Europe. Fairness!” wrote the US president.
Since his election in 2016, Trump has cultivated a fractious relationship with most Western leaders, regularly clashing with them over the role of supranational bodies such as the WTO, or the International Criminal Court, and issues like trade, emissions and immigration. Underneath that runs the real tiff that is around the essential issues of inclusion or exclusion of the rest of the world. The Americans—along with the anglo-saxons ready with Brexit—are pushing for a violent world wherein the less powerful are to be excluded and their rights denied as has been manifested at a pilot scale in the ongoing Israeli slaughter of the Palestinians. The EU doesn’t want that. Germany and France are the two great economies that are holding the EU together. France, therefore is in a double bind. It cannot agree to exclusion for then there is no way of making America pay for its profligate ways manifest in its trillion dollar debt mountains.
The French people—and those in Belgium and Netherlands that are inspired by the rioting in France—are angry because they are not used to Austerity. It is something that only people in the poor countries used to suffer. It was the first time in Europe when the EU made the Greek suffer Austerity for the sake of continuity. The French and other European citizens are refusing to be subjected to what the EU has made others to go through. Hence the riots are not going to be easily quelled.
Indeed the unrest is growing and riots have spread to other cities in France and in many other European countries including Poland. Processions in other cities changed their name from “yellow vests” but organizers refused to postpone the march as advocated by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and the World Wildlife Fund.
Neither Trump nor the champions of EU can cotton to the protest demands. To the protesters, the explosion of the climate is like the explosion of the social inequalities. They look at these as two symptoms of the same model of development that damages the environment as it spoils people. In Lyon, 10,000 people marched including dozens of “yellow vests”. In Marseille, another 10,000 people demonstrated. In Paris, the police headquarters counted 30 wounded including three police.
From Belgium, the president of RN Marine Le Pen asked Emmanuel Macron for “strong answers” to the “suffering” of “yellow vests”. Police in Paris fired rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-government protestors across France as they turned violent. The French interior ministry said 118 people were injured in the protests in several cities, including 17 law enforcement officers.
Radical analysts hold the demonstrations of people in yellow vests signal a large dissatisfaction of the people over their governments. France’s protests have become anti-Macron as well for his failure to protect the French people and their culture. It is the same for Belgium and the Netherlands. Leaders lead their countries like modern companies across the EU. Making a profit cannot be what success is about in society. People are worried about immigration, about poverty and about the future of their children. It is the same existential anxiety suffered by people in the so-called third world.
Is the world on the verge of another revolution in France is anyone’s guess? Momentum is surely building up. It has been a long time since something as promising as the yellow vests protests showed up in our world. If the phenomenon spreads to Germany and the UK, a working class revolution could not be ruled out.
The implications for the rest of the world will be too new to be imagined at this point in time.
Khalid Hussain is Resident Editor of TLTP – You may contact Khalid Hussain at Resident.Editor@tltpnews.com.pk
The Law Today Pakistan, commonly known as TLTP, is the largest news wire service, headquartered in Islamabad. The service is providing fast, comprehensive and verified news on superior courts adjudications, regulatory framework of fiscal, monitory and external sectors, economic regulatory bodies amid apex institutions regulating the financial system. TLTP is empowering readers of more than 12 national English dailies in the country.