France Is On The Brink

It could peter-out, or it could get a whole lot bigger

Paris Rioting hit mainly the chic districts, targetting the symbols of wealth and the 1%: 5-star-hotels, luxury cars, banks, jewelry stores…

After two weeks of Yellow Vest protests, government insults and deaf ears, President Emmanuel Macron is scrambling for answers but unwilling to compromise. There is a no-confidence vote is in the making, the left and right oppositions are calling for new legislative elections and an already weakened economy is teetering. This leaderless, grassroots movement by mainly angry, lower and middle income white French families, may still peter-out, and then again, as I wrote on November 22, in ‘France’s Deplorables Explained’ (Click here), it may not.

Government Fear-Mongering Backfired

For two weeks, President Macron, his government, members of the parliamentary majority and media pundits insulted the Yellow Vests in a bid to sway public opinion against them. In the language of the Interior Minister, the protesters are: The Brown Plague and racists, homophobes, antisemites, straight out of the 1930s, Poujadists (1), populists, extreme-rightwing ‘deplorables,’ uncultured and so on. Some likened them to ‘Nazis’ such as one MP who edited yellow vests on a Third Reich photo of people giving the Hitler salute. Yet, polls show as much as 80% of the French people support the Yellow Vest Rebellion, depending on how the question is asked (2.) despite the violence.

As the French philosopher, Michel Onfray, points out, as soon as these “Nazis” are on TV, they speak of toys impossible to pay for their children at Christmas, teeth they can’t afford to care for or choosing between ‘stainless steel or enamel,’ and I even heard of glasses they can’t afford to replace, fewer visits to the gynecologist because it costs too much, vacations are inconceivable, clothes paid for by the grandparents …” (4) This hardly sounds like an opportunist fascist putsch, although I don’t rule it out if the right charismatic leader comes along.

Macron’s Arrogant Bubble-People

Meanwhile, the elite in their Paris bubble add insult to injury. The Minister for Pubic Accounting, Gérald Darmanin, says he understands “how hard it is to live on 950 euros a month as the bill in Parisian restaurants when you invite someone to lunch is 200 euros and that’s without the wine.” (click here FR.) Two hundred euros is 20% of the minimum wage! How insensitive can they get?

These same ‘bubble-people’ insisted the number of protesters is shrinking, yet Police Unions put the number at seven times that of the government: On Nov. 24, ‘France Police Union‘ said there were 750,000 while the government put the figure at 100,000. (click here FR.) And many Frenchmen show their protest by putting a yellow vest on the dashboard when they can’t take part, because, unlike civil servants or students, they have to work or they lose their jobs. The Interior Minister’s threats to break heads and jail protesters just brought more people out onto the streets.

Fissures Within Security Forces

Macron’s grip on the police is weakening. Many have spoken out in favor the Yellow Vests, including on YouTube (click here AND here) and denounce being used to put down the demonstrations. (click here FR.) This is a very dangerous development for a government faced with a pre-insurrectional, leaderless, social movement. Polls show a majority of the police and army vote for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally Party any way (click here FR.). There is no love lost between this French government and its police.

The FO Police Union called on the government to bring out the Army, saying they are overwhelmed. The Minister of the Interior has not ruled out a “state of emergency” which, in fact, has been in effect since the terror attacks of 2015. The next step could be a “state of siege” and martial law. (click here). 

The government has the tools to do this. One of the first laws Macron imposed was to set up a Presidential Anti-Terrorist Task Force which by-passes the judicial process (click here); a move seen as extremely dangerous and authoritarian (click here). Macron has been ruling by decree thanks to a parliamentary majority which rubber-stamps his reforms through Article 49-3 of the Constitution; this article allows by-passing debate of a law through a straight vote of confidence in the government.

Firemen too, who in France are military personnel and follow the orders of the Defense Ministry, have taken off their helmets and put on Yellow Vests when sent to counter the protesters. High School students have begun a protest movement on the wave of the Yellow Vests. When students in France revolt in conjunction with a worker’s protest movement the country can come to a stand still, as witnessed in May 68.

Fissures Within The Majority

Macron’s own majority is tearing at the seems. François Bayrou, head of the junior coalition partner MoDem Party, warned Macron: “You cannot govern against the people.” Bayrou, whose constituents are farmers and low income workers, reacted angrily when the government spokesman, Benjamin Grivaux, dismissed the Yellow Vests as “guys who smoke butts and ride on diesel,” adding that, “this is not the France we want for the 21st century.”

“How can you be a French minister and show such disdain for the French people?” Bayrou asked.

There is no communication possible between Macron’s MPs and the Yellow Vests. As a matter of fact, one may ask whether his République en Marche Party, LaREM, really exists for anything other than to allow him to rule by decree? And let’s not forget, the “unfair” French electoral system gave LaREM an overwhelming majority with less than 24% of the vote in the first round. Polls show their support is even lower today.

For Macron There Is No Turning Back

Seen as arrogant, out of touch and President for the rich

Emmanuel Macron has made it clear: he has every intention of following through on his ambitious reforms program and no amount of French protest will sway him. 

If Macron gives into the Yellow Vest Revolt, even a little, his whole program of reforms goes out the window. The investors he was hoping to attract through his labor reforms will turn away from a country without political stability.

His employer-friendly reforms so far, just to name a few:

  • 1. Made it easier to lay off workers
  • 2. Lowered compensation for lay offs
  • 3. Allowed hiring on renewable temporary contracts
  • 4. Eliminated mandatory union participation on negotiations by allowing company-wide referendums
  • 5. Eliminated sector wide collective bargaining, allowing companies to reach a deal directly with their employees

If Macron gives into the Yellow Vests, he is sure to see more protest movements in the coming months as civil servants discover they can force him to backdown.  Macron is on a collision course with the French people and he seems willing to take the country over the edge if need be.

Macron knows if France is to survive in the capitalist Europe he so loves, he must bring down the debt (100% of GDP), the stubbornly high deficits which means reduced spending, notably on entitlements, pensions, wages and he must get people to work when unemployment has been ten percent or higher for a generation and youth unemployment as much as 45% in predominantly immigrant cités. It has also meant increased taxation, but for the bottom half.

If Macron has any hope of pushing for a more integrated European economy, he needs to give France teeth with which to bite. The Treasury has been empty for at least 15 years (PM François Fillion, 2007) and France depends on Germany and a couple of other wealthy northern countries backing the European Central Bank which in turn supports Euro Bonds at two percent. Without this support, France would be paying at least 10% on borrowing, if not more. The country would default. The Euro would unravel. The whole European project could crumble. France is too big to fail.

Germany refuses to see more money printed, known as Quantitative Easing, because it brings inflation and the Germans hate inflation for clear historical reasons. The Germans refuse to condone debts above the Maastricht Treaty Debt Ceiling agreement of 60% of GDP and a budget deficit of under three percent. Few countries meet these criteria but France’s huge economy is a bigger strain than Greece, for example.

Emmanuel Macron may be making some rushed visits to Berlin and Brussels this week to seek support in fighting off the rising tide of French anger. How far is the French President willing to go against his own people to see his country reform?


Note: I maintain the Yellow Vests are a predominantly, far right wing voting group, overwhelmingly white ethnic French, as outlined in my ‘France’s Deplorables Explained’ text of Nov. 22. So far, the left has been unable to sway them although they have voiced their support and sent the labor unions to meet them. 

1.The Poujade movement of the 1950s was a right wing protest movement of small shop keepers and artisans who feared for their future with the development of shopping centers.  (click here)

2. Libération analyzed how the question influences the response in polls but points out that whatever the case, anywhere from two-thirds to 80% approve of the movement despite the violence.   (click here

3. A new poll by Le Journal Du Dimanche shows by deduction that a full 79% of the French don’t want any more immigrants: 52% say there are too many while 27% say there are enough. 64% said France has taken in a lot of foreigners and that they don’t wish to take in any more. It also shows that 60% fear the difference in “values” make problems for cohabitation. Two-thirds of the French feel immigration has a negative impact on security while 53% say it favors terrorism.

Respondents want an end to:

  • An end to family grouping for foreign migrants
  • Abolition of Jus Solis for obtaining citizenship
  • Abolition of the Schengen Accords of the free movement of people
  • Re-establishment of border controls
  • Click here 

4. Michel Onfray in French on the verbal abuse of the Yellow Vests: