Last week, France’s Yellow Vest movement entered its 23rd week. While the movement’s ranks have thinned, the government’s reaction to hasten its demise have been Orwellian. On Saturday, things got worse.
The Yellow Vest (in French: “gilets jaunes”) movement doesn’t need much introduction at this point, but for those who wish to have their memory refreshed: In November of last year, thousands of people in major French cities (and their peripheries) protested the planned increase in fuel duties, which the government introduced in order to keep promises made under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The demonstrations were violent and, after initial stubbornness, President Emmanuel Macron decided not to go forward with the measure. In some areas in France, a liter of fuel can cost you as much as $2.15, while your region’s train connections might be unreliable at best.
The protests then mutated into larger demands for social justice, but due to their apolitical nature and lack of leaders beyond those who coordinate the logistics of the protests, there are multiple, occasionally contradictory calls to action. President Macron couldn’t be more upset: While he attempts to be the most thorough reformer of the European Union since its creation, he cannot even hold his own country together.
Macron’s opponents on the question of the centralization of the EU have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. Italian interior minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini expressed his support for the yellow vests, going so far as to organize a meeting. Paris responded quickly, calling the meeting “unacceptable” and withdrawing their ambassador from Rome.
Macron’s legitimacy in the European Union will begin to fade if he does not manage to get the situation at home under control. But with the European elections coming up at the end of May, the yellow vests have every incentive to spit in his soup. His poll numbers reflect that: in the most recent survey, the “centrist” politician only garners 29 percent of the population in support.
In an effort to reinforce security in Paris during Saturday’s protests, the government decided to activate 7,000 armed soldiers, deployed to defend strategic points.