The Yellow Vests
France is used to see demonstrations – one may even say that demonstration is a traditional form of expression in France. The Yellow Vests movement, however, appears to be something out of the ordinary.
Contrary to a more typical demonstration, the Yellow Vests movement consists of protestors out of the ordinary. The middle class, people from different political sides and rural France are all represented. Where most other demonstrations are organized in big cities, the Yellow Vests movement has also expanded towards the villages. But how do the protestors show their dissatisfaction? By frequently interfering with traffic by blocking roundabouts.
This brings the question: In which way does this movement differ from the usual demonstrations that take place in France?
This movement pretexted the infamous eco-tax, where Emmanuel Macron, in line with his stance on sustainability, introduced a new tax on vehicular pollution. However, according to experts, this tax is not sufficient to explain the present situation. The image that has been painted of the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron as a powerful figure, might be misleading. One of the things that are fueling the protestors seems to be Macron being elected by a minority of voters, where demonstrations, to the protestors, feels like the only real expressive outlet.
The last straw
According to Robin, a Yellow Vests representative contacted by the NHH-Symposium, who belongs to La France Insoumise (radical left), this movement originated in the 2008 economic crisis. Austerity policy became the norm with Nicolas Sarkozy and François Holland. They promoted radical reforms that affected the rural parts of France, often referred to as the invisible France. Holland’s failed promise to end these policies is considered key to the popularization seen in the 2017 presidential election. This, as well as series of scandal-ridden french presidents lead to a rather sensitive environment, where a small nudge such as the eco-tax was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Hugo, a member of Generation.s (a left-wing party), points out that this could be considered a reaction from the middle class to the economic and democratic crisis. He stresses that the Yellow Vests movement is rather an epidemic than a solution to the problem.
As the movement is divided and permeated with distrust, speculations have been made regarding the further evolution of the movement. Hugo lists three potential solutions: Maintaining status quo, where the movement will continue to demonstrate in the future. Secondly, Macron could choose to establish contact through social dialog and discuss the issues with the demonstrators. Controversially, Macron could react and shut down the demonstrations. This would ultimately lead to a more authoritarian regime.
Uncertain road ahead
Robin is certain that this would be a historical step that will change french politics. The outcome, however, remains to be seen. The movement has undoubtedly shed light on the invisible parts of the middle-class and the rural parts of France. The most dire challenge the movement is currently facing, is to organize itself properly ahead of the coming elections for the European Parliament. The struggles to organize itself may be considered one of the reasons it has not been taking seriously earlier, as a lack of organization indicated poor progress.
The next step today will be the European election, as it could or could not justify the self-confidence of the government and its opponents. French citizens seem to have reached a consensus of being on the brink of a political disaster. The future is totally uncertain.