France: Macron caves to gas tax rioters
There is “no excuse” for the riots that have raged in Paris and other French cities over the past three weeks, said Jérôme Fenoglio in Le Monde. At least four people have been killed, dozens injured, and hundreds more arrested in scenes that haven’t occurred in France since the massive social protests of 1968. We saw police and demonstrators alike bleeding in the streets, smoke rising from burned-out stores, and tear gas canisters rattling down the sidewalks. Cars were set on fire, and graffiti such as “We cut off heads for less than this” were scrawled on the Arc de Triomphe. The “Yellow Vests”—who wear the neon jackets that French drivers have to carry in their vehicles in case of an emergency—first took to the streets to protest a hike in the diesel and gasoline taxes. The increases were intended to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. But gas already costs about $7 a gallon in France, and rural residents who rely on their cars were outraged. Some 300,000 demonstrators protested nationwide, and their demonstrations quickly morphed into a rally against the high cost of living and President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to make the labor market more flexible and has already reduced taxes for the wealthiest. For that reform agenda, he’s been labeled a president of the rich.
The government has now “retreated” on the gas tax, said Virginie Malingre and Manon Rescan, also in Le Monde. It wasn’t just the Paris unrest: Yellow Vests blocked roads across the country, “causing fuel shortages in Britain and miles of traffic jams on the Spanish border.” And the movement was growing, as students and unions began to join. Macron hoped to halt all that by announcing a six-month freeze on the new tax, but activists have vowed that their protests will continue—some say they’ll only stop when Macron resigns.
This is what comes of Macron’s attempt to “reform from above” without considering the already strained finances of most citizens, said Laurent Joffrin in Libération. Radicalized rural voters see violence “as the only way to be heard.” This is, after all, a country whose national anthem is a revolutionary ballad; in France, “rebellion always enjoys initial sympathy.” Macron thought he himself was the rebel, said Saïd Mahrane in LePoint.fr. His centrist Onward party came to power just 18 months ago, sweeping away decades of rule by the established parties and promising reform. Now, thanks to his arrogant attitude, he’s seen as establishment, too.
The rift in French society predates Macron, said Renaud Girard in Le Figaro. Thirty years ago, we adopted “Anglo-Saxon liberalism” and began allowing global businesses to compete with utterly unprepared domestic firms. But at the same time we became “more and more socialist,” giving out high welfare payments and passing rigid labor laws. The result? “Deindustrialization and mass unemployment have invaded small provincial towns.” Macron’s reforms are still the right answer. Will the French let him see them through? ■