In an effort to quell the violence and anger of last weekend’s riots, President Macron’s government announced its decision yesterday to suspend, for six months only, the proposed increase in fuel and gasoline taxes. It also announced the suspension, for six months only, of an increase in electricity rates.
Not good enough. Too little and too late, the people say. They’re not asking for a suspension, but rather a cancellation of those taxes and rates. They’re also asking for a lot of other things. And so, more protests are planned for this Saturday December 8th (hopefully less violent, but there’s no guarantee.) I have a train to catch on Saturday morning. I hope I can make it across town, unimpeded.
Here’s my takeaway from the recent riots –
The young President Macron is only 40, but we see him as old. He has old ideas. During the election campaign he presented himself as an anti-Establishment progressive, but he’s not. He is the embodiment of Establishment. France has known far older presidents in the past, presidents like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, for example, who presented the nation with young and progressive ideas. Even Mitterrand had his modern moments. But there’s nothing fresh or innovative about Emmanuel Macron.
“Mr. President”, said a naysayer in the Senate, “You are not reforming the country, you are brutalizing it.” During his campaign speeches Macron promised reforms. We haven’t seen any reforms, only tax hikes.
As for climate change and the environment, Macron’s government has done nothing. A highly respected Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, resigned for that very reason in August.
The people are turning against Macron, in particular those with lower incomes. They are the losers, they feel, in a country run by elitists; a country where the gap between rich and poor just gets bigger; in a country where the rich get tax breaks and those with tiny pensions are subject to increased taxes on their sole and meagre incomes. They say they feel abandoned. Abandonnés.
One wonders how a small group of ivory tower elitists can qualify as representatives of the people.
During a whirlwind visit to a region of France earlier this year, President Macron actually scolded a group of elderly pensioners who complained to him about his recent tax increase to their fixed retirement incomes. On another occasion, he told a young job-hunting horticulturist that all he had to do was “cross the road” to find a job (as a dishwasher in a café or restaurant.)
The people call Macron “president of the rich” or “King Louis XIV.” What he really is is a rather unimaginative civil servant turned banker. Before becoming President he worked for the investment bank, Rothschild, where he earned €2.9m and learned about debt restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. (The French have a deep anti-bank sentiment.) After graduating from the elite school, ENA (École nationale d’administration), Macron went on to become a finance inspector at the Ministry of Economy.
The only reason Macron won the presidency was because the man tipped to win – François Fillon, who served as Prime Minister under President Sarkozy – got caught up in embezzlement allegations. After Fillon was eliminated during the first round of presidential elections in April 2017, the center-right electorate clamored for heavyweight Alain Juppé to run (mayor of Bordeaux, former Prime Minister under President Chirac, Minister of Foreign Affairs). But Juppé declined. He had had enough of Paris and was happy at his job in Bordeaux. Meanwhile, no-one had heard of this young upstart called Emmanuel Macron who had formed a new political party based on his own initials. EM – En Marche!
The two remainers then in the run-up to the presidential elections were Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party. Macron became President almost by default.
People are sick of paying taxes. I’m sick of paying high taxes. What’s more, they want to know where their tax money is going. They want transparency. They also want to put an end to the upper-class and blinkered political world of Paris “that only works for itself.”
“Les casseurs sont vous, le gouvernement !!” This is probably the most powerful phrase I’ve heard yet coming from the protestors. (The hooligans are you, the government!)
Update – Thursday evening and I’m watching the TV news. Shops are shuttering all along the Champs-Elysées and on other high-end shopping streets. The Eiffel Tower and many museums will be closed this weekend. A major soccer game has been cancelled. Monuments will be protected by army tanks. All this in anticipation of another violent Saturday. I’m wondering if I should cancel my trip to Lille. To get to the Gare du Nord from my apartment on Saturday morning, I have to cross central Paris …
Friday update – here’s a really good article in today’s The Guardian:
Friday night, 6:30 pm: Arriving at my local supermarket this evening to do some food shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before my eyes. A dozen men were hammering huge wooden panels onto the windows of the store. I wanted to run home and get my camera. Other stores were doing the same thing, all in fear of “casseurs” (hooligans) storming the streets tomorrow, smashing windows and looting. Two weeks before Christmas, the big department stores will be closed tomorrow … unheard of! They’re also closing over 30 metro stations. And I’ve changed the dates of my trip to Lille. I’ll go the following weekend.